Relaxed menopausal woman

What are the stages of menopause?

What are the stages of menopause?

Menopause is a natural stage of life, but it can be somewhat of a mystery until you go through it yourself, and even then, it can be tricky to identify the symptoms, or recognize if it’s started. So, to help provide some clarity, we’ve gathered some information about the different stages of menopause and the symptoms that are associated with them.

What is menopause?

Menopause marks the end of a women’s menstrual cycle and fertility. It occurs when your ovaries stop producing eggs, resulting in a reduction of estrogen levels – the hormone that controls the reproductive cycle. Menopause occurs naturally with age, but it can be induced early if the ovaries are damaged or your body stops producing estrogen. This is often referred to as POT (Premature Ovarian Insufficiency), but the term can also be used to define when menopause occurs below the age of 40, in your teens, 20’s or 30’s [1]. The body can also be put into menopause early as a result of having a hysterectomy or an oophorectomy (removal of ovaries), which is known as surgical menopause. Women undergoing chemotherapy and hormonal therapy for breast cancer which affects estrogen will also experience induced menopause rather than a natural menopause.

What are the early stages of menopause?

If you experience menopause naturally, the first stage of menopause is known as perimenopause or ‘menopause transition’, which is when the ovaries gradually begin to produce less estrogen. This typically begins eight to ten years before menopause, in a woman’s 40s [2]. Occasionally this stage can occur before 40, which is called premature menopause. The exact age when you start menopause is often determined by your genes [3].

The first change you might notice when you enter this stage is a greater irregularity in your menstrual cycles. You may see your periods coming further apart or being missed, although they won’t stop completely until you enter the later stages of menopause.

Remember, although during these early stages of menopause you might feel some of the typical menopausal symptoms as your estrogen levels drop (hot flashes, mood swings, trouble sleeping, a lower sex drive or vaginal dryness – all the fun things!) you can still get pregnant if you are still having menstrual cycles during this time. So, make sure you’re still practicing safe sex if you’re not trying to conceive.

How do you know when you’ve entered menopause?

Usually, women fully enter menopause around age 51. You’ll know you’ve reached this stage once you have your final period; although you won’t be able to tell which period is your last until you’ve gone a whole year without one. Once it’s been 12 months since your last period, menopause is officially ‘diagnosed’ [4].

The symptoms you’re likely to experience at this stage of menopause will probably resemble what people typically associate with ‘the menopausal experience ‘.  However, keep in mind that every woman has different experiences during this time in their lives, so if you’ve had some symptoms but not others (or experienced changing symptoms) that’s completely normal too.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

The menopause can bring about some unpleasant symptoms, and as a result there may be times when you don’t feel quite yourself. But don’t worry, (unfortunately) these are very common effects that most women experience at some point in their menopause journey.

Because of the changes to your hormone levels during the menopause, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Hot flashes
  • Aching Joints
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Headaches
  • Vaginal dryness and soreness
  • Urinary symptoms such as an increase in UTIs, frequency or urgency
  • Painful sex
  • A lowered sex drive
  • Increased heart rate
  • Trouble sleeping

middle age women with vaginal dryness

What is the final stage of the menopause?

Although there are officially three stages of menopause, the only defining time is the 12th month after your last menstrual cycle. From this point on you are post-menopausal. For this reason, the term ‘going through the menopause’ is rather misleading. As there is only one month when you are officially in menopause, the rest of the time you are either perimenopausal or post-menopausal and as every woman is an individual, symptoms will vary in severity and duration. Some will notice very little difference, but others may experience extremely challenging symptoms. However, there are plenty of options for treatment and no-one needs to suffer alone. Always seek help from your medical professional if you are concerned about changes that may be related to any of the menopausal stages.

So, to summarize, menopause is considered a three-stage process:

  1. Perimenopause refers to the 8-10 years before menopause when your ovaries slowly produce less estrogen.
  2. Menopause refers to the time when you have your final period – marked by your menstrual periods having stopped for at least a year.
  3. Post-menopause is the stage of life after you have not had a period for 12 months or longer [5].

The average length of overall menopausal symptoms is around 4 years from your last period, however, 1 in 10 women experience them for up to 12 years [6]

For more information on how to manage menopausal vaginal dryness check out our advice page here.