Did you know that there are different stages of menopause?
Yes, that’s right! Some of you might be unaware that there are actually three stages of menopause, with each stage having its own symptoms.
For many women, the word menopause defines the entire process from perimenopause to postmenopause. It’s generally understood as the time when women stop having periods. However, it’s more than that!
Most women fail to recognize the symptoms of perimenopause early on. Years later, they look back and recount all their discomforts and experiences, and they begin to realize that it may have been caused by menopause. Makes sense right? You think to yourself, “I might have done something about my symptoms when I had them!” But that’s okay!
One of the keys to manage menopause the best way you can is to understand the three stages of menopause! Get to know what happens in each stage and what you can do with your symptoms!
Three Stages of Menopause
Menopause does not happen in an instant. The Cleveland Clinic divides menopause into three stages: perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause. Every stage is unique. To know what phase you're in, it is important that you know their corresponding symptoms.
The first stage of the menopausal cycle is perimenopause. It usually begins 8 to 10 years before your menstrual cycle completely stops. At this stage, your ovaries gradually lessens its production of estrogen and progesterone. Both hormones are responsible in ovulation, menstruation and fertilization.
The perimenopause stage is the most difficult. During this time, our hormones are very erratic and unpredictable. In the early years of perimenopause, your estrogen levels remain normal, but your progesterone levels fluctuate far quicker. Some women may also experience estrogen surges that may result to a condition called estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is responsible for many of the symptoms in perimenopause.
The following are some symptoms of perimenopause that you should watch out for.
- Irregular Periods. Declining estrogen and progesterone levels will result in intermittent menstrual cycles. At first, periods will occur every two to four months until it gets further and further apart.
- Changes in menstrual flow. Periods are inconsistent; they can be heavy or light.
- Changes in length of cycle. Menstrual cycles can be longer or shorter.
- Hot flashes. You will feel intense heat on your face, neck and chest. As the heat spreads out, it will cause severe perspiration and skin redness.
- Night sweats. As the term implies, night sweats occur at night. This symptom is the body’s way of cooling down.
- Trouble Sleeping. Estrogen and progesterone are sleep promoting hormones. When both of these hormones’ ratios shift, getting enough sleep can be difficult.
- Vaginal Dryness. Estrogen plays a great role in vaginal health. When it declines, you will lose lubrication and elasticity in your reproductive area. See effective vaginal treatments.
- Headaches and migraines. Lack of sleep and anxiety can trigger severe and recurring headaches.
- Mood changes. Fluctuating hormones can cause anxiety, mood swings, irritability, crying spells and depression. Women who experienced postpartum depression are more prone to mood changes in menopause.
Perimenopause starts as early as a woman’s 30s to her 40s. Although there’s a drop in estrogen, you can still get pregnant. It is best to observe your symptoms and take note of frequency and severity. In this way, you will be able to create a plan of care for yourself, which will help you relieve discomforts.
Symptoms of perimenopause mimic the symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) or thyroid problems. To distinguish perimenopause, you need to track down the frequency of your symptoms.
It’s easy to identify perimenopause symptoms from PMS. The latter lacks the three classic signs of perimenopause. These are irregular periods, hot flashes/night sweats and persistent symptoms. PMS symptoms usually occur two weeks before menstruation and goes away after that. Both perimenopause and PMS takes place due to hormonal imbalance.
Perimenopause can also mimic the signs of hypothyroidism. Unlike PMS, it is difficult to identify hypothyroidism based on mere symptoms. Perimenopause and hypothyroidism symptoms overlap to a great extent. You need to take thyroid tests to best determine if it’s one or the other. You may need to go through a Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) and T4 test.
You are in the menopause stage when your menstruation or period ceases for a full 12 months. According to Women’s Health, the average age that a woman reaches the menopausal stage is at 51.
During the menopause stage, your ovaries will no longer produce egg cells. The production of estrogen and progesterone also declines. Only testosterone is being produced by the ovaries. You heard it right! The male hormone is also produced by our ovaries in minimal amounts. Good thing it does, because testosterone can be converted to estrogen through our body fats.
Perimenopause symptoms will still be present during this stage, with the addition of the following common symptoms:
- Frequent Urination/Urinary Incontinence. During menopause your vagina and urethra loses elasticity and wall linings become thin; pelvic muscles may also weaken. It is normal for menopausal women to lose control of their bladder, resulting to frequent urination or urinary incontinence.
- Urinary Tract Infections. Vaginal dryness and changes in the urinary tract makes you susceptible to infection.
- Loss of Libido. Low sex drive during menopause can be associated with hormonal imbalance, vaginal dryness, pain during coitus and depression.
- You will feel tired, weak and drowsy at times. Estrogen plays a big role in energy regulation at a cellular level, so this explains why you feel will feel exhausted.
- Thinning of the hair. Losing hair can start during the perimenopause stage. It can occur suddenly or gradually.
- Poor Concentration. Mental blocks, memory lapses and poor concentration are caused by estrogen deficiency.
- Weight Gain. You are at risk of gaining weight during menopause, because of the reduction in circulating estrogen signaling the body to retain more fat cells. In addition, another hormone, testosterone, decreases at this stage; low testosterone means low metabolic rate. It is important to observe a healthy diet and active lifestyle during your menopausal transition to prevent weight gain.
The illustration shows the levels of estrogen and progesterone as a woman ages. Notice that as age increases, the secretion of both hormones begin to decline. However, as you can see, progesterone is decreasing rapidly compared to estrogen. When there is excessive estrogen and deficient progesterone, a condition called estrogen dominance occurs. As a woman reaches 70 years old, estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest levels.
The decline in estrogen and progesterone contribute to most of the symptoms of menopause.
If you want to read more about the symptoms of menopause and their detailed explanations, you can visit My Menopause Journey.
The last part of the stages of menopause is the postmenopausal stage. Statistics show that the average postmenopausal age is 55. Estrogen and progesterone permanently remain at low levels throughout life.
The postmenopausal stage marks the permanent end of your menstrual periods. Symptoms that you experienced during the perimenopause and menopause stage will also start to cease. While discomforts are reduced at this stage, you still have to take care of yourself because of the risk of certain conditions.
Estrogen is essential in preserving bone mass. With its depletion during menopause, the internal part of your bones become less dense. Your bones will eventually become brittle over time and you will be more at risk for fractures.
Going through menopause, you will lose 25% of your bone mass, putting you at risk for osteoporosis. However, you have many options to prevent this from happening. Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet and engaging in aerobic exercises will make a huge difference.
- Heart Problems
The National Institute on Aging (NIH) included cardiovascular disease as one of the major health concerns of postmenopausal women. Although men are more prone to heart disease, women are equally at risk when they reach the age of 60. Estrogen loss is a major reason for this.
During menopause, your bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglyceride levels increases while your good cholesterol(HDL) decreases. Consistent rise in your bad cholesterol will eventually result in blocked arteries and later on circulatory problems which can cause stroke or heart attack.
To prevent the development of heart problems, you need to take care of yourself the best way you can. Lifestyle is a major factor that you should focus on. Eat healthy, enjoy routine exercises and de-stress from time to time.
Menopause is something that you can manage and overcome. Understanding the three stages is the first step to know how long this transition will last.
The video below explains the stages of menopause and how you can deal with your symptoms. You can also check out Menopause Taylor’s other helpful videos!
To be certain that you’re indeed going through menopause, there are tests that you can take. My Menopause Journey prepared a comprehensive list of menopause tests for you!
If you want to find out if your symptoms are due to hormonal imbalance, try using the hormone balance test by Dr. John R. Lee, Dr. David Zava and Virginia Hopkins. Symptoms are categorized into six groups. All you need to do is place a check mark on the symptoms that you have. Once done, make sure that you go back and count the number of symptoms you check for every group. If you have two or more checks in a group, it is more likely that you have the hormonal balance in the category. You can read the interpretation provided at the end of the page.
There are several ways to ease menopause symptoms. You have hormone replacement therapy and medications to help you cope, but you can also explore a number of natural remedies first before going for conventional treatment.
Exercise should be on top of your list! It’s vital that you make exercise part of your daily routine. Many women give little importance to exercise, but you should never underestimate the relief that it brings. Exercise triggers the production of serotonin, one of your happy hormones. This happy hormone literally makes you happy — improving your overall mood, appetite and even normalizing your sleep pattern.
10 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise such as your burst training can make a huge difference. Weight training will also help a lot as it will improve your self-confidence and promote hormonal balance. Exercise can also maintain muscle mass which prevents weight gain. Finally, it combats osteoporosis by strengthening our bones.
Want to jumpstart your exercise routine? We have a lot of handpicked free exercise channels on our site for you to choose from!
A lot of foods and herbs have natural hormones or hormone balancing properties. Many herbs are used to ease menopause symptoms but here’s a list of those that are really proven to be effective: ginseng, evening primrose oil, licorice root, wild yams, red raspberry leaves, sarsaparilla, red clover and chaste tree. You also have your so-called superfoods which will help relieve menopausal symptoms.
Fresh and organic fruits and vegetables and high-fiber food sources are helpful in keeping you healthy. They give you the energy to perform activities and keep you away from diseases. Dietary supplements and menopause supplements are also great options to replenish vitamin deficiencies and manage menopausal symptoms.
Every woman has a different menopausal experience. Don’t feel embarrassed by your condition, because menopause is not a disease! It is a life passage that happens to every woman. As a matter of fact, many women are now reporting as a positive experience; it has strengthened family and relationship bonds. Menopause is a new stage in life that can be embraced with optimism.
So, among the the three stages of menopause, which stage do you think you’re in?
We would love to hear your thoughts so feel free to add your comments below. Share this article if you want to increase other's awareness about the three stages of menopause.
Office on Women's Health. Menopause basics.
The New York Times. Menopause In-Depth Report.
University of Colorado. What is menopause.
The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Menopause, Perimenopause, and Postmenopause.
National Institute on Aging. Menopause: time for a change.