If you’re in midlife – or approaching it – you will have a lot of questions about menopause. (Unless your head is buried in the sand, in which case, it’s a good thing you’re reading this article.) What is menopause? Are you going through it? What is perimenopause? Could it just be stress? How long does menopause last? If you find yourself asking these questions, you’re not alone. And you’ve come to the right place.
What is menopause?
Menopause is when your menstrual cycles end. You will only be menopausal when your periods have stopped for a full 12 months. While this change often occurs when a woman is between 45 and 50, the average age for menopause for women in the UK and the United States is 51. It is a natural process, and the severity of symptoms will vary from woman to woman. Every woman’s menopause is different.
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause means, “around menopause.” It is the time leading up to your moment of menopause. MPowered’s medical advisor Dr Stephanie Goodwin often describes perimenopause as “the storm before the calm”.
It is during perimenopause that your body begins to transition to the menopausal stage. It is also when symptoms can start to kick in – and when many of us are clueless that these are menopausal symptoms and not just the challenges of midlife. This can start at any time in your 40s, or earlier for some women. In the UK, the average age for perimenopause to start is 45.
You are in perimenopause until you have gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period. Then you are in menopause.
What is post-menopause?
Postmenopause is the time immediately following 12 months of no periods. Women who have gone through menopause will be in the post-menopausal stage of life for the rest of their lives. Confusingly, the same menopausal symptoms can continue well into your post-menopausal years. (Sorry about that.)
What Causes these Changes in Women?
It’s important to understand that, just as puberty happens to all of us, so too does menopause. This is an entirely natural phase that all women will experience. Which makes the taboos around it frustrating and nonsensical.
It is also important to know that no two women experience this change in the same way. Some of us have a really difficult time of it, while others don’t seem to struggle at all and sail through it. We are all different.
So, what is the cause of all these changes? The short answer is hormones. The long answer is oestrogen. This hormone is what makes a woman able to reproduce. It helps the body to mature eggs, be able to hold and grow them, and ultimately, have babies.
As women age, our bodies stop producing oestrogen at the same levels as they used to. Not only is the body changing how much oestrogen is present, but the hormone that helps to stabilise all the others, called progesterone, is occurring in lower and lower levels. This causes the symptoms that many women experience throughout perimenopause, menopause, and even post-menopause.
What are the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause?
If you think that you’re experiencing perimenopause and/or menopause, then you may well be. While the average age of menopause, or when your period stops, is 51 in the UK and the United States, perimenopause can begin five, and even 10 years earlier. This means that many women are experiencing perimenopause for quite some time, and might not even know it.
Some of the most common perimenopause symptoms include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Irregular periods
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Painful intercourse
- Loss of sleep or not sleeping well
You may not experience all these symptoms at first. In fact, in the beginning of perimenopause, you may discover that you have an extremely long menstrual cycle one month, and the next month, it is very short. You might notice that you get very warm or hot, for no reason, during or just before your period. You may discover that you’ve gained weight, or you’re not sleeping well, but not all the time.
As you get further into perimenopause, you may experience mood swings that are similar to PMS symptoms, but occur for no reason. Sometimes, you experience a little pain during sex, and you might need some assistance with treating issues like vaginal dryness.
This is all due to your changing hormone levels, and as the process continues, some women might find that they have a period, but do not ovulate all the time. The ovaries aren’t always being signalled to release eggs, so it might become a bit more difficult to become pregnant.
Does menopause ever end?
Menopause has a bad reputation, partly because of the taboos and misinformation surrounding it. But this is a completely natural phase of life. It can be difficult to go through, but there are ways to help ease the symptoms and live your healthiest life.
Every woman experiences it, and it happens at different stages of life. Still, most women want to know how long does menopause last, and when will they know when it’s over?
The answer isn’t simple, because perimenopause can last as long as 10 years, but actual menopause is just one moment in time. When you’ve passed the 12-month mark without experiencing a period, you’re post-menopausal.
How do you know when the menopause is over?
Don’t be surprised if you go for six months with no period, and then have one. This officially sets you back to the beginning of the process, and you have to go through another 12 months. It’s normal. But you’ll only know you’ve reached menopause retrospectively – ie. once the 12 months are up.
In the meantime be aware of the changes in your mental and physical health and educate yourself about the best ways to manage your symptoms. With oestrogen receptors all over the body, you will be affected in a myriad of ways in the perimenopause and post-menopause years.
But knowledge is power: Know what you are dealing with and you will find that these midlife years can be your best yet.