Is it menopause or perimenopause? These two terms can cause some confusion when we try to determine if we have crossed the point of no return. What do these terms mean for us and how do we know when we are perimenopausal or menopausal? We will have a brief look and clarify the differences.
Perimenopause is a relatively newer term that has gained popularity within the last two decades. The word itself means ‘around menopause’ and refers to the years leading up to the end of the menopause cycle. With increased understanding that menopause is a natural life transition that does not happen overnight (with the exception of induced surgical menopause or a hysterectomy) doctors know that menopause may take several years to complete. Each woman is different so the length of the menopause cycle varies greatly.
During perimenopause, women notice the physical changes within their bodies. Often referred to as the aging process, perimenopause makes itself known by symptoms that come with those pesky grey hairs. Blame it all on the always-fluctuating hormones when it comes to:
*Hot flashes and night sweats as our internal body temperatures go up and down
*Irregular periods that may come more frequently, less frequently, miss a couple of months then start up again, have a heavier or lighter flow, or have a longer or shorter duration
*Sleep disturbances that contribute to increased fatigue and irritability
*Mood swings and feeling a sense of losing control over life events
*Low libido and genital dryness
*Facing the end of the fertility years and possibly trying for another child
Any of these signs may last from a couple of years to as long as ten or more years for some women. Symptoms may be mild or severe and may interfere with our daily lives. Perimenopause then takes us up to the point where we are done with the menopause transition and those symptoms disappear, leaving us with a new phase of life.
Menopause is confirmed when there have been no menstrual periods for 12 consecutive months. So if by some chance you had 11 months period-free, then started again, you would have to wait another full 12 months to be considered menopausal. For years 51 has been the benchmark age but menopause can occur earlier or later depending on the individual.
Once the menopause transition completes, women are considered postmenopausal. The hormones have settled down and the reproductive process has ended. The postmenopausal years may bring a new set of health issues but do not have to mark the end of our lives. In fact, we can embark on a whole new chapter of growth and health awareness.
Not sure where you fall on the menopause transition? Please check out www.menopause.org for great resources.
Keep track of your body's changes with Menopause, Your Doctor, and You