The Three Stages of Menopause

by Kirsten
Woman looking forward

Menopause, the permanent end of menstruation, is a natural biological transition that all women experience. While often over-simplified as a single event, menopause is actually a three-stage process with distinct characteristics. Understanding these stages can empower us to navigate this transition and make informed decisions about our health. A recent study revealed that over 90% of women received no education about menopause in school, and more than 60% felt entirely uninformed about it.

Stage 1: Perimenopause (On Average: 40s)

Perimenopause, meaning “around menopause,” encompasses the years leading up to menopause itself. It can begin as early as 37 years old, but typically starts in the early 40s and lasts an average of 7 to 10 years. During this time, the ovaries gradually produce less oestrogen and progesterone, the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. Symptoms can vary widely among women. Some experience significant oestrogen surges alongside dramatic drops in hormone levels. Currently, there are up to forty recognised symptom (of which I have many), with research suggesting this list could expand to include as many as one hundred. Despite affecting an estimated one billion women worldwide, perimenopause lacks a single definitive medical test for diagnosis. Doctors typically diagnose it based on symptoms and menstrual history or a woman can self-diagnose by doing online self assessments. The late perimenopause stage can be marked by irregular periods, heavy bleeding, and skipped periods as the body transitions into menopause.

Stage 2: Menopause (Average Age: 51)

Menopause is officially diagnosed when a woman has not had a menstrual period for twelve consecutive months. This signifies that the ovaries are no longer producing enough eggs for ovulation to occur, and the menstrual cycle has permanently ended. While the average age is 51, menopause can vary from woman to woman, occurring anywhere between 45 and 55 years old. Many symptoms experienced during perimenopause can continue into menopause, although they may lessen in severity over time. However, menopause can increase the risk of health conditions like osteoporosis (weakening of bones) and heart disease. Therefore, it’s a crucial time to focus on overall health and well-being through a healthy diet, regular exercise, and consistent check-ups with a healthcare provider.

Stage 3: Postmenopause

Postmenopause is the stage that follows menopause and lasts for the remainder of a woman’s life. During this time, the body continues to adjust to lower hormone levels and the absence of menstruation. Some women may still experience certain menopausal symptoms, like vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, although these may become less frequent or less severe. Oestradiol levels will be less than 1% compared to those at age 25, and neglecting this important hormonal shift can lead to a decline in health. Given that most women will spend roughly one-third of their lives in postmenopause, prioritizing physical and nutritional health through exercise and a balanced diet is key to living a long and fulfilling life.

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