The Stages of Menopause
Experiencing premenopause, perimenopause, menopause or post-menopause? Getting ready for this natural stage of life.
We can experience menopause as early as in our late 30’s or as late as in our mid to late 50’s. Many of us in our mid to late 40’s have this in the back of our minds, but we associate menopause with getting older and treat it with a mix of denial and apprehension. Until the symptoms are there, we tend to avoid the subject.
But isn’t it better to be arm ourselves with information and know what to expect during this natural and unavoidable time of our lives?
According to the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) an estimated 6,000 US women reach menopause, or the permanent end of their menstrual cycles, every day.
Many women feel alone during menopause, are not ready for it (I certainly was not), and definitely do not have a full understanding of what’s happening to their bodies – Let’s take the negative stigma away from the reality of menopause. A little bit of self-education is a positive first step in tackling this new stage of life!
As with most aspects of menopause, the age it happens to you depends on a variety of individual factors. There is no set rule. Some of you – particularly if you’re in your 30s or 40s – may put those early symptoms down to stress or other life events without realizing you are actually perimenopausal. Many women don’t know (as I didn’t) that there is a difference between perimenopause and menopause.
So let’s review the stages and when they could occur.
Early and Premature Menopause
Some women (around 1 in100) may experience menopause in their 30s or 40s or even younger. This is known as early menopause if you are under 45, or premature menopause if you are younger than 40. Early or premature menopause happens when your body stops producing hormones a while before it is meant to.
We don’t know exactly what triggers premature or early menopause. But it can be caused by enzyme deficiencies or autoimmune diseases that affect hormone production in your body. Cancer treatments including radiotherapy and chemotherapy as well as surgical procedures such as a hysterectomy can also be responsible for premature or early menopause.
If you’re worried that you might have early or premature menopause, your doctor can perform a blood test to measure your estrogen levels. More specifically, blood tests can determine the level of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) in your body, a hormone that stimulates the ovaries to produce estrogen. A high level of FSH suggests low levels of estrogen, which can indicate a woman may have early or premature menopause.
Tens of millions of women are experiencing symptoms of perimenopause—the transitional phase in which a woman’s ovarian function starts to decline and periods become irregular. The perimenopause phase usually starts when a woman reaches her 40s. Many changes accompany this stage of life – hello hot flashes and night sweats, with sleepless nights! - but they don't have to include anxiety or disorientation.
A decline in the production of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone causes the signs of perimenopause to appear.
Women nearing menopause usually go through a variety of physical and emotional symptoms, caused by hormonal imbalances. This phase of fluctuating hormone levels, known as perimenopause, differs for every woman and typically lasts for a few years.
Perimenopause is the transition to menopause which starts a few years before menopause begins. This is the time where your ovaries gradually slow down its estrogen production. This perimenopause phase starts and lasts until menopause, a point where the female body no longer releases eggs for the function of reproduction.
In the last few years of perimenopause, the estrogen level drops dramatically causing women to experience many symptoms. Perimenopause can last an average of 4 years. However, in some women, the perimenopause phase may be as short as a few months or can last as long as 10 years. Cheer up, though! Thanks to the internet there are many resources available on how to cope with these symptoms.
One of our favorites is the Menopause Guidebook by the North American Menopause Society.
This phase may start sooner if there is a family history of early menopause, if you have had a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) or oophorectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries), have gone through treatments for cancer, or are a smoker.
One of the most notable symptoms of perimenopause is irregular periods, where your menstrual cycles may lengthen or shorten, or become overall more erratic. Some women may attribute symptoms of perimenopause (like increased anxiety and mood swings) to other factors in your life that may cause stress.
During the final two years of perimenopause, your estrogen production slows down rapidly. It is at this stage that many women start to experience symptoms of menopause like hot flashes and fatigue. Perimenopause ends at the start of menopause, when the ovary stops producing eggs and so during perimenopause, you can still become pregnant. So keep that in mind!!!
It is recommended that you start using a vaginal moisturizer at this earlier phase – before vaginal (vulvar) dryness settles in. The earlier we start taking care of our vulvar skin, the better conditioned we will phase into the menopause months/years. Nourish Your V is clinically proven and specially formulated to give the skin the protection and hydration it needs during this tumultuous period.
Natural menopause is a normal transition process that you can’t delay or stop.
Although I admit to wishing it so many times!!
Menopause officially begins — and ends — when you haven’t had your period for 12 consecutive months. It is said “officially” because there’s a lot more involved in the transition than just that specific time without a menstrual cycle.
For many women, it’s hard to pin down exactly when menopause starts and even more difficult to know exactly when it will be finished — which can make it seem so much longer.
No matter what age menopause begins, it always seems too long, but women should focus on techniques that reduce their symptoms so they can feel their best during this important stage in their life.
We all have a unique hormonal imbalance, so calculating when exactly a woman will go through menopause is tricky. The best predictor is our family history. Many women stop menstruating and experience menopause around a similar age as their mothers. In cases of early menopause, women are 60% more likely to start menopause sooner if they have a family history of early menopause.
It’s a menopause myth that the older you are when you first menstruate, the older you’ll be when you go through menopause. Sometimes, it’s just the opposite. If you got your period later than average, you may begin menopause earlier.
Other factors that may influence the start of menopause are more or less within your control, depending on your circumstances. These include poor nutrition that can lead to hormonal imbalance; exposure to environmental toxins that are absorbed into the body and disrupt hormonal activity; smoking; and chronic, long-term stress. This is also a perfect time to swap your beauty regimen, and “clean” out your hormone disruptive beauty products! Change to clean or green, non-toxic, plant-based body and skincare, and your body will thank it for you! Aromatherapy may become one of your best friends on this journey. It is also never too late to start meditation! Its benefits are proven for many of the menopause symptoms.
If you have not had a period for 12 months, you are considered post-menopausal and your symptoms may gradually decrease with time. By now you probably are a pro at handling the symptoms and have figured out how to lessen any discomfort associated with the symptoms.
Unlike perimenopause and menopause, the start of postmenopause is not signaled by distinct physical symptoms, but is a permanent state following menopause that lasts for the rest of your life. In fact, symptoms of postmenopause vary from woman to woman. Some women feel a renewal of energy, while others continue to have menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. As your estrogen levels are permanently lowered, it’s normal to feel changes in the body.
It is important that you make time for regular health checks as postmenopause women are at increased risk of a number of health conditions such as osteoporosis and heart disease due to reduced estrogen production. Fortunately, postmenopausal risks can be managed through a healthy lifestyle and diet (including regular exercise and vitamin intake), and regular visits to your GP.
One symptom, which seems to be consistent in each phase is vaginal dryness. No wonder there is a whole industry making creams, gels and other solutions to help alleviate this symptom, which makes so many women suffer.
You will do yourself a favor by using an all-natural vaginal (vulva) moisturizer, and start using it as soon as the perimenopause symptoms appear (or even before if you want to pamper yourself and your partner).
Nourish Your V moisturizer has been uniquely formulated to deeply moisturize and care for the sensitive intimate skin areas – especially in the time of dryness and discomfort. This moisturizer is designed to be used in the external areas like the labia and vulva. It is formulated with 100% cold pressed vegetable and essential oils, clinically proven, gynecologist and dermatologist tested, totally hormone-free.
No matter what stage of your menopause you are, a natural vaginal moisturizer used on a daily basis is going to be your best friend throughout your 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond.
You might think that menopause is a difficult stage. I have decided to embrace this new phase since I cannot avoid it. Instead, I am focused on learning about my body and adopting positive and loving self-care rituals.
Share your thoughts or tips about this topic, we would like to share them with our readers!