Claire Forster - Naturopath

 

Is this Menopause?

Menopause is the time in a woman's life when she stops menstruating and just like menarche (the beginning of menstruation), it is a normal and natural life transition.  However for some women the menopausal years can be a particularly challenging time, both physically and emotionally.

It's important to understand that every woman's experience of menopause is different.  Also, menopausal-related symptoms and the severity of those symptoms often change during the years leading up to and after menopause.  Therefore equipping yourself with knowledge about menopause can help you make decisions about what support is right for you.

 

The Phases of Menopause

Menopause is the specific point in time when menstruation ceases.  However, menstrual cycles often become irregular and unpredictable before they stop completely, so menopause is usually confirmed after 12 consecutive months without a period.  For most women, this most often occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 - the average age is 51 years.

Technically, the time leading up to your last period, plus the 12 months that follow, is called 'peri-menopause', although many people will simply refer to it as 'going through menopause'.  The length of peri-menopause can vary greatly - for some women the transition may be a couple of years, while for others it might be more like six or seven years.

After menopause has been confirmed (12 months after your last menstrual period), you are considered to be in 'post-menopause'.  The post-menopausal years can present some challenges of their own, as the risk factors for developing conditions such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease (CVD) increase.

 

Pre-menopause

Peri-menopause

Menopause

Post-menopause

  • No menstrual cycle changes
  • No menopausal symptoms
  • PMS symptoms may occur
  • Age 45 onwards
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Menopausal symptoms may appear
  • Menstruation ceases
  • Average age 51 years
  • Confirmed 12 months after last menstrual period
  • 12 months after last menstrual period
  • Menopausal symptoms may persist
  • Risk factors for conditions such as osteoporosis / CVD increase

 

The First Signs of Peri-menopause

Despite the all too well known association between menopause and hot flushes, they might not be the first indication that you are transitioning into peri-menopause.

The most common early sign of peri-menopause is changes to your menstrual cycle.  You may notice changes in menstrual flow (lighter or heavier), the length of your periods (longer or shorter) or changes to the frequency of your cycle (less frequent or more frequent).  

Cycle irregularity and unpredictability can then follow, along with the presence of one or more of the symptoms commonly associated with menopause such as hot flushes, sleep disturbances or changes in mood.

 

Key Points

  • Although there are similarities, every woman's experience of menopause is different.
  • The transition through menopause can present both physical and emotional challenges.
  • Learning about menopause can help you make decisions about what support is right for you.
  • Naturally occurring menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 - the average age is 51.
  • Symptoms associated with menopause can appear years before you actually reach menopause - this time leading up to menopause is known as 'peri-menopause'.
  • One of the most common first indications that you are entering peri-menopause is changes to your menstrual cycle.
  • The post-menopausal years can present some challenges of their own as the risk factors for conditions such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease increase.


References:
Sarris, J., Wardle, J. (2010).  Clinical naturopathy: An evidence-based guide to practice.  Sydney, Australia: Elsevier.
Trickey, R. (2011).  Women, hormones & the menstrual cycle.  Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne Trickey Enterprises (Victoria) Pty Limited.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

 

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