A variety of hormone-related changes are experienced by women over a lifetime, starting with puberty and the onset of periods through the effects of pregnancy and childbirth. There are multiple sources of information to prepare patients for these physical and psychological journeys integrated into both educational settings and routine healthcare. Not so much for the transition to menopause.
Many people associate menopause with old age, hot flashes, and moodiness. But there is much more to know about the path to menopause, including that symptoms can start as early as your late 30s and frequently in your early 40s.
Perimenopause is when your body starts to make the natural transition to menopause. It can last for several years, and some people are still having regular periods even as they begin to undergo changes.
Menopause is technically the final menstrual period, when menstrual cycles cease. This typically occurs between your mid-40s to mid-50s. According to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), the average age for menopause is 51. However, the word “menopause” is often used to refer to the several-year period as one transitions from regular periods to none and for a period of time thereafter.
Postmenopause refers to the years after 12 consecutive months without a period.
The menopausal transition is different for each of us. While some experience their perimenopausal and postmenopausal years with no symptoms, others notice hormone-related physical and mental changes that can interfere with day-to-day living.
Although there are no reliable tests to determine where you are in your menopause journey or when you will have your final menstrual period, perimenopause typically starts in one’s early 40s. One of the first symptoms is menstrual changes. Periods often start coming closer together. That is, cycles start shortening. So instead of 28 days, a cycle could be 26 days. The amount of bleeding may change too (heavier or lighter), and bleeding may last for more or fewer days than before.
Other symptoms of perimenopause are variable and range in intensity from person to person. Possible symptoms that could be related to hormones during perimenopause include the following:
If you start to experience any of the symptoms above, regardless of your age, it’s worth a discussion with your healthcare provider. Keeping track of your periods and symptoms will be helpful in sorting them out. Either grab a notebook or find an app and track what you’re experiencing, its severity, when it happens, and how often. This will help your provider rule out other medical concerns and help determine if your symptoms are related to the menopausal transition.
Menopause is not an illness but rather a normal life transition. There is no universal treatment, but there are options to help manage symptoms.
Along with your PCP and OB/GYN, the Atrius Health Menopause Consultation Service is available to help Atrius Health patients understand current information about menopause and assist them in making informed choices about lifestyle, self-care, and available treatments as they navigate this life stage. Talk to your provider and get a referral if you think you need it.
The bottom line is that you are not alone, your symptoms are usually normal and temporary, and there is help.
You can’t stop menopause from happening, and the best advice I have is to ensure that you are in the best health before you start the menopause transition.
I don’t want only negative symptoms and experiences to be associated with menopause. The transition can be liberating! Once you’re postmenopausal, there are no periods, no concerns about pregnancy, no cramps, and no need for menstrual products. It is important to note that while you no longer have to be concerned about getting pregnant, you still need to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections. Many people find that as they age, they gain confidence and begin to focus on themselves for the first time in a long time.