A woman will experience three stages of menopause and each one comes with its own challenges and symptoms.
In the UK and US, the average age for women to reach menopause is 51 years.
The first of the three stages of menopause is called peri-menopause. This usually begins when you reach your 40s, although it can start as early as the mid-30s. It’s the time when physiological changes begin and it can start 8-10 years before actual menopause occurs. The average length of peri-menopause is 4 years although for some women it can only last a few months.
What’s actually happening is a fluctuation in hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone), signalling the end of egg production. This can cause uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia and fatigue. Irregular periods are often the first sign that a woman is starting peri-menopause with some experiencing changes in the length of their cycle, or longer or shorter periods. Others find their flow is heavier or lighter, and the intensity and duration of period cramps can also vary.
In the last 1-2 years of peri-menopause, the drop in oestrogen accelerates, but it’s important to remember that pregnancy can still occur any time before menopause so it’s a good idea to get tested.
The word menopause is derived from the Greek pausis (cessation) and men (month) – so the end of the monthly cycle. At this stage, the ovaries have almost ceased oestrogen production and stopped releasing eggs.
Menopause is diagnosed when a woman has gone without a period for 12 consecutive months.
These are the years after menopause. During this stage, as hormone levels tend to stabilise, this is when most menopausal symptoms can ease for many women, although some may experience them for up to 10 years afterwards.
Find out more about the 10 most common symptoms of the menopause.
To identify and monitor your symptoms, why not try out our Free Menopause Symptoms Tracker™.