Stages of Menopause

Fact checked

By SheCares Editorial Team | Updated: May 06, 2021

Throughout their lives, women pass through numerous bumpy times of hormonal shifts, starting from puberty all the way until the years following menopause.

Those significant changes they experience are divided into distinct stages, each with its own significance, symptoms, and challenges. Knowing how to differentiate between them can equip women with concrete tools for staying in optimal health and preventing complications ahead of time.

Read on for an overview of the stages of the menopausal transition so that you know how to address your health needs in the best possible ways throughout your life.

Stages of menopause

Premenopause

Premenopause

Let us start with premenopause, the stage in women's reproductive lives that is oftentimes confused with the subsequent stage, called perimenopause.

When to Expect Premenopause?

Premenopause encompasses women's childbearing years, from the time they reach puberty until the onset of perimenopause in their 40s.1 While it varies among women, most spend about 30 years of their lives in premenopause.

What to Expect in Premenopause?

Except for occasional irregularities, most premenopausal women will have healthy menstrual cycles, with regular monthly periods and ovulation. They are also likely to experience normal period symptoms, such as mild cramps and breast tenderness.

More intense symptoms or prolonged period abnormalities may signal an underlying menstrual disorder, including premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or irregular periods, both of which should be promptly treated.

Premenopause is also the best time for women to get pregnant as their ovaries are full of good quality eggs, which are the determinants of female fertility.

Perimenopause

Perimenopause

The next menopause stage is the turbulent perimenopause, which - adding to the confusion - is very commonly referred to as menopause.

When to Expect Perimenopause?

Perimenopause starts with the first hallmark menopause symptoms and ends when women reach menopause. This stage of the menopausal transition typically begins in women's mid-40s and can continue for a few months to over 10 years.2 

What to Expect in Perimenopause?

During perimenopause, the ovaries start running out of eggs, leading to intense hormonal fluctuations. Those shifts of estrogen and progesterone cause symptoms, including irregular periods, hot flashesloss of libidomood swings, and more.

Because of the declining number of eggs in the ovarian reserve and a high percentage of chromosomal abnormalities within them, fertility at 40 is generally compromised. As a result, women can still get pregnant, but it may take longer and prove more challenging. 

Menopause

Menopause

Menopause, the penultimate stage of the menopausal transition, is simply a date when women have not had their periods for 12 consecutive months.3

When to Expect Menopause?

The average age of menopause in the United States is 51, which means that women generally reach their final periods between the ages of 45 and 55.4

About 5% of women experience early menopause, which takes place between 40 and 45, whereas 1% goes through premature menopause, defined as one that happens before the age of 40.5

What to Expect in Menopause?

The most meaningful event of menopause is the confirmation of the end of women's reproductive abilities. After not having periods for a year, their ovaries are believed to have run out of eggs. As a result, they no longer ovulate and cannot conceive.

By now, many of the symptoms that plagued women throughout perimenopause have lessened or disappeared. Some, however, may continue for several years.

Postmenopause

Postmenopause

Once a woman is confirmed to have reached menopause, she enters the final of the menopause stagespostmenopause.

When to Expect Postmenopause?

Postmenopause starts the day after the confirmed menopause date and spans the rest of women's lives. Depending on the age at which women reached menopause, they may spend a third or half of their lifespan in postmenopause.

What to Expect in Postmenopause?

Since ovaries no longer contain eggs, their estrogen and progesterone production is halted. Although these hormones are still produced in small amounts in other parts of the body, their levels remain consistency low in postmenopause.

These persistent hormonal lows bring about a set of new health challenges, most important of which being osteoporosis and postmenopausal heart disease. It is also common for women to still experience some lingering symptoms, like painful sexvaginal drynessincontinence, and weight gain, for a few years into postmenopause.

Key Takeaways

For women, aging is not merely about dealing with newly spotted gray hair, achy joints, and slower metabolism. From the first period, through their childbearing years, and until the time following their last menstruation, women endure substantial hormonal changes. These natural, but oftentimes intense shifts, bring about an array of physical and emotional symptoms as well as new health challenges. As such, experts agree that it is essential for women to know how to recognize each of those menopause stages in order to ensure optimal well-being, catch potential abnormalities early on, and seek adequate treatment when necessary.

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