Your Complete Guide to the Stages of Menopause – SheKnows

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The menopausal journey is different for every person. Some may experience its associated symptoms earlier than average (the average age of menopause in the United States is approximately 51 years old). Others may have more severe symptoms, with hot flashes and/or night sweats taking up a larger part of your life than you’d like it to. Regardless, there can be some comfort taken in the fact that yes, everyone does go through this journey, no matter how many detours there may be along the way.

But despite the universal experience that is menopause, there is still a lot of confusion over what exactly menopause is. To break it down, menopause is a point in time when you’ve gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual cycle. The years leading up to that point, also known as the time when you may experience menopause symptoms, is called perimenopause. It can be a lot to digest but don’t worry, we’re here to help you every step of the way. Below, read for your full-proof guide on everything you need to know about the three stages of menopause.

Perimenopause

According to the Cleveland Clinic, perimenopause can begin eight to 10 years before menopause when your ovaries gradually produce less estrogen. In other words, you can experience perimenopause years before your last menstrual period. However, it usually begins when you’re in your 40s, and lasts up until menopause, the point when your ovaries stop releasing eggs.

In the last one to two years of perimenopause, the drop in estrogen accelerates. At this stage, many people may experience menopause symptoms. But, you’re still having menstrual cycles during this time and can get pregnant. If you’d rather avoid a pregnancy at this time in your life, it’s recommended that you talk to a doctor about your birth control options, at least until one year after your last period. 

Some common signs during perimenopause include irregular periods, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep disturbances, and mood swings—all results of unevenly changing levels of ovarian hormones (estrogen) in your body, according to the Menopause Society.

Menopause

As mentioned previously, menopause is the point when you no longer have periods. At this stage, your ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and stopped producing most of their estrogen. Menopause is diagnosed by a healthcare provider when you’ve gone without a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months.

While the average age of menopause is 51, some women will reach this phase earlier or later in their lives (such as 30s and 60s). However, a good way to preventively tell where you may fall is by looking at family members as typically, women reach menopause around the same age as their mothers and sisters. Race, age at first period, birth control use, or fertility medications do not seem to be determining factors in when you will start menopause.

Menopausal symptoms include hot flashes (these typically continue for a year or two after menopause), night sweats, insomnia vaginal dryness, mood swings, and urinary urgency. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you can have symptoms of menopause for up to 10 years. However, most people experience symptoms of menopause for less than five years.


Postmenopause

So, you made it through perimenopause and menopause, now what? After you haven’t had a period for an entire year, you are officially in your postmenopause era. This stage refers to the rest of your life after menopause. While menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, may get better, due to the continued decrease in estrogen levels during this time, symptoms like vaginal dryness and hot flashes may linger. But just because you made it this far doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence. Talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options and the long-term health risks associated with life postmenopause.



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