Every woman anticipates the arrival of menopause in her later years. This transition out of the childbearing years is a normal part of life, but it’s not always clear when it starts. Every experience with menopause is unique, but there are sure signs many women experience that clue them into the early stages.
By knowing the stage of menopause you’re in, you can better manage your symptoms and seek the right support from your medical providers, family, and personal community.
The three stages of menopause
We commonly use “menopause” to describe the entire experience of transitioning out of fertility. However, you’ll go through three different stages: perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause.
Perimenopause is when you begin changing and may experience symptoms. Menopause occurs when you haven’t had a period in 12 months, and post-menopause is everything after.
Perimenopause is the beginning
Perimenopause is when your hormones become less regular, and symptoms begin. This stage typically begins 4-8 years before menopause, but it can last much longer for some women. Some women notice changes beginning in their 40s, while others start to experience hormonal changes in their mid-30s.
Certain medical conditions can trigger early menopause, which is when a woman completes menopause before age 45. These conditions include certain reproductive surgeries, side effects from cancer treatment, specific medical conditions, smoking, and certain autoimmune diseases.
Many women notice changes in their menstrual cycles and mood, including irregular cycles, lighter or heavier periods, and more noticeable mood swings. These changes happen as your estrogen and progesterone levels start to decline naturally.
Menopause is when your menstrual cycle ends
Menopause refers to when you no longer have a period. It lasts for 12 months, and then you enter post-menopause. Once you reach menopause, you will no longer be able to get pregnant. Every woman who has ovaries will experience menopause at some point.
When does menopause start?
On average, women experience menopause, or the final menstrual cycle, around age 51. Some women experience menopause in their 40s – with a small percentage experiencing signs of menopause earlier and much later.
Each woman experiences menopause at a different age, and certain factors may determine when. Genetics can play a role in menopause, and the women in your family may give you clues as to when it will start.
However, if you live a healthy, active lifestyle and don’t drink or smoke, you may experience menopause later than your relatives. If you experience any medical factors mentioned above, you may go through menopause earlier.
Post-menopause happens for the rest of your life
On average, women spend one-third of their lives post-menopausal. Post-menopause simply means “after menopause,” and you reach this point when after having no periods for 12 months.
Your ovaries still make low levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, but you are no longer ovulating (releasing eggs). You may experience menopause symptoms for about 2-7 years after your final menstrual cycle, and some women's symptoms last longer. They will dissipate over time and eventually stop.
I think I’m in menopause. What should I do?
Menopause is a natural, healthy part of life. It’s a beautiful transition into a new stage of life, but you can experience unwanted and sometimes unbearable side effects. Most side effects can be managed and even eliminated with proper care.
We recommend talking with a hormone health specialist who works with menopause patients. These specialists can teach you to modify your lifestyle and educate you about different hormone therapies based on your individual needs.