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What's the Difference Between Menopause and Perimenopause?

Are you confused about the difference between menopause and perimenopause?

Does the prospect of the “change of life” seem scary? 

Are you worried about what signs and symptoms you should look out for and expect? 

Don’t worry, we got you! 

In this blog post we’ll be outlining what menopause and perimenopause are, how they are different, what signs to look out for, and what to expect.

What is Menopause? 

Menopause is a totally natural process, where your ovaries will stop releasing eggs, and your menstruation cycle ends. [potential to link to Getting To Know Your Menstruation Blog Post] 

Menopause is typically defined when you’ve missed 12 consecutive months of your period, with no other obvious causes. Your levels of estrogen decrease as your body no longer has to produce the necessary hormones and chemicals needed for ovulation. 

Menopause typically takes place in your 40s and 50s -  the average age for women going through menopause is 51 years old. 

Everyone’s experience of menopause is different. 

Generally the first symptoms you will notice is changes to your periods like: 

  • you’re having heavy bleeding 
  • your periods are really close together 
  • you are experiencing spotting between periods 
  • you have longer than normal periods 

For some, menopause can also be triggered by chemotherapy and radiation, surgery to remove ovaries, and 1% of us will experience premature menopause due primary ovarian insufficiency. 

What is Perimenopause? 

Perimenopause literally means “around menopause”. Perimenopause is the transition phase around and leading up to menopause, and can last from 4-8 years. It starts with changes in the length of time between your periods and ends 1 year after the final menstrual period.

Many who experience menopause don’t experience any physical changes during perimenopause except irregular periods, but for some, symptoms include: 

  • hot flashes 
  • irregular, heavy, or missed periods 
  • trouble sleeping 
  • bladder problems: more prone to UTIs or urinary incontinence 
  • night sweats 
  • vaginal dryness 
  • painful sex 
  • decrease in fertility 
  • changes in sex drive 
  • loss of bone 
  • changing cholesterol levels 
  • mood swings 
  • weight gain 
  • thinning hair 

How Do I Tell If I am in Menopause or Perimenopause? 

Some questions to ask yourself to determine whether you’re in menopause or perimenopause are: 

  • Am I in the right age demographic? (40-50) 
  • Have I been experiencing any of the symptoms outlined above (hot flashes, vaginal dryness, bladder problems)? 
  • Have I been experiencing irregular, heavy, or missed periods? 

If you do suspect you’re going through menopause or perimenopause, that’s always a great time to book a full physical examination with a qualified health professional.

Your doctor might order a blood test to check your follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estradiol (E2) levels to be able to rule out any other causes for the symptoms you are experiencing. 

With your changing body, you might want to also consider certain lifestyle changes like diet and exercise to help manage your symptoms, and of course, making sure to keep up with your general health with annual PAP smears, mammograms, and general check-ups. 

It might feel a bit overwhelming to see all these symptoms; but remember this is totally normal, there are solutions out there to treat the symptoms - and the best part: you’ll eventually be post-menopausal where these symptoms will subside.