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.
No menstrual cycle changes
No menopausal symptoms
PMS symptoms may occur
Menstrual cycle changes
Menopausal symptoms may appear
Average age 51
Confirmed 12 consecutive 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 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).