Menopause is the period of time in a woman’s life in which her menstrual periods stop and she is no longer fertile. The average age of menopause is about 51 years but it can last anywhere from age 40 to 59 years of age. Menopause is usually preceded by “perimenopause” by a few years.
In perimenopause, the hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone normally produced by the ovaries begin to decrease. The periods become irregular but do not stop altogether. Women can get symptoms of menopause during perimenopause (hot flashes, night sweats, and mood changes, to name a few) but they aren’t as frequent as when a woman reaches menopause.
Premature menopause is sometimes referred to as premature ovarian failure or primary ovarian insufficiency. This is when the ovaries begin to fail prior to the age of 40. The ovaries do not produce enough estrogen and ovulation occurs sporadically or not at all. This results in early infertility, which is difficult to treat.
The term “premature menopause” is often used interchangeably with premature ovarian failure but they are not exactly the same thing.
Women in premature menopause actually stop having their period prior to age 40, while women with premature ovarian failure can still have some ovulations and will have irregular periods, often lasting several years. The treatment for premature ovarian failure is estrogen replacement therapy, which help the symptoms but does not treat the infertility.
Stages of Menopause
The initial symptoms of premenopause are night sweats and mood swings. Although you will be experiencing normal periods, this is a time when you will notice certain changes in your behavior.
The word premenopause signifies the stage in your life when you are still menstruating but there are some indicators that menopause is not far off.
Perimenopause is something entirely different from premenopause.
During perimenopause, women begin to notice the first signs of menopause beginning to take place while continuing to ovulate and have menstrual periods. Many women begin to notice irregular periods and the onset of hot flashes but may still be three to five years away from the full onset of menopause.
There is a lot of confusion regarding premenopause and perimenopause because they are so phonetically similar, but there shouldn’t be. Premenopause is what happens before menopause and perimenopause refers to the beginning of the onset of menopause.
Perimenopause describes the period when there are many significant changes in the woman’s body such as hot flashes, night sweats and other menopausal symptoms but the woman will have occasional periods. Mood swings are common during perimenopause.
During this phase of perimenopause, you are still fertile and reproductively active. However, the indicators are there to tell you that you are nearing menopause. This is when the ovaries begin to decrease their production of estrogen and there are fewer chances of getting pregnant.
This phase is marked by a considerable rise in the level of your follicle stimulating hormones. Many women enter perimenopause sometime in their 40s while other women do not have this stage at all.
This is when the periods finally stop. The woman is said to be in menopause when she has not had a period for at least 12 months. There are often symptoms, including mood swings, hot flashes and night sweats. Menopause can last for 1-3 years. Women who have had their ovaries surgically removed generally experience more symptoms.
There has been a considerable amount of research to try to discover why women have hot flashes. As a result of this research, it is believed that the sudden drop in estrogen levels make the brain release a burst of hormones.
This sudden surge in hormones increases gonadotrophin levels which has been identified as the cause of hot flashes. Women also report feeling suddenly hot or cold, with profuse sweating or cold chills at any time of the day.
Menopause is also signaled by certain changes in the menstrual cycle. This can sometimes be accompanied by an increase in painful cramps. With the passage of time, menstruation ceases and the cycle stops.
Once you recognize the signs of the onset of menopause or you are in full menopause, then you should make the necessary changes to provide yourself with as smooth a transition as possible. If you are finding it difficult to manage the symptoms of menopause, you should seek the advice of a doctor.
Postmenopause is used to denote the phase of your life after menopause. Once a woman has gone 12 months without a menstrual cycle occurring, she has reached full menopause.
This is when the periods have finally stopped and the ovaries at this time no longer release eggs and produce much less progesterone and estrogen. Pregnancy is no longer possible at this stage.
During perimenopause, symptoms generally occur because of constant fluctuation in hormone levels. After menopause, symptoms decline because estrogen and progesterone levels remain consistently low.
Usually the symptoms taper off but many women continue to have dry vaginal mucosa and are at an increased risk for osteoporosis and heart disease.