Life in transition
Many women think of menopause as a change that sets in quickly when a woman reaches her late forties or fifties. But the truth is, there’s actually a long transitional phase leading up to menopause called perimenopause, and another phase that follows called postmenopause. Some women also experience early menopause if they experience certain health conditions and procedures.
Perimenopause is essentially a transition into menopause when a woman’s body starts to produce less estrogen. This phase usually begins when a woman is in her mid-forties, though it can begin when a woman is in her thirties or even earlier.
During perimenopause, your menstrual cycle will become irregular, but you can still get pregnant. You may experience spotting, skip a few periods, notice that your period is longer or shorter than usual, or experience bleeding that’s heavier or lighter than your normal. Other common signs of perimenopause include night sweats and hot flashes, mood changes, dryness during sex, decreased libido, decreased bone mass, and changes in cholesterol levels.
Typically, perimenopause lasts three or four years, but the duration will vary from person to person, which is the case with most aspects of perimenopause. Overall, this phase and the other stages of menopause are highly variable from one woman to another.
For many women, menopause occurs naturally as part of the aging process. But it can also set in earlier than usual for women who’ve experienced certain medical procedures and situations including chemotherapy, hysterectomy, and oophorectomy.
During menopause, you’ll continue to experience some of the symptoms that you may have dealt with during perimenopause (hot flashes, insomnia, mood changes, and more) but the notable difference about this stage is that it’s when you’ll have your last menstrual period and can no longer become pregnant.
Most women experience menopause somewhere between the age of 45 and 58, with the average being at age 52.
The phase known as postmenopause begins a year after a woman’s last menstrual cycle. During this phase, you may continue to experience symptoms like hot flashes, insomnia and other sleep problems, mood changes such as depression and anxiety, increased heart rate, night sweats, and discomfort during intercourse due to vaginal dryness. Bleeding shouldn’t occur after you’ve had your last menstrual period, so you’ll need to see a doctor if you experience any vaginal bleeding during post menopause.