Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Understanding Peri-Menopause

There is little doubt that menopause is a momentous and life-changing episode in a woman?s life. After all, menopause marks the end of menstruation, and in turn, the conclusion of our child-bearing years. In fact the word ?menopause? says it all, breaking up into two Greek terms, namely ?mens? (meaning monthly) and ?pausis? (meaning cessation). Although menopause has been demonized over the years, in fact it is really just another natural stage in a woman?s life cycle. And although it can present challenges such as new and sometimes unpleasant physical symptoms, as well as emotional upheavals, it is something that should be embraced with positivity, understanding and humor.

There is some confusion though between what constitutes menopause proper and what is ?peri-menopause?. Menopause is the single day when a pre-menopausal woman has failed to have a period for more than twelve months. Confused? Don?t be! It?s actually really simple. You see, leading up to menopause a woman?s ovaries stop producing the regular amounts of the hormones progesterone and estrogen. When levels of both these hormones drop, menstruation ceases and hence a woman?s fertility ends. Officially a woman is said to have gone through menopause if she has failed to menstruate for an entire year. So from a medical point of view menopause takes place on the day when a pre-menopausal woman has missed 12 periods running..

What many women do not realize is that there is a stage leading up to those twelve months in which her period becomes absent. This phase is known as ?peri-menopause? (also known as ?pre-menopause?) and it can begin many years before menopause take s place. It is the period in which women undergo most of the symptoms of menopause. So in fact, when a woman says ?I am going through menopause?, generally what she really means is that she is going through peri-menopause.

Technically speaking, peri-menopause starts when a woman?s body begins to produce less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Once this process starts, a woman?s general fertility begins to diminish, and her ability to fall pregnant is affected. Ultimately this culminates in her final period, which is the complete end of her reproductive years. Peri-menopause can start as early as age 35 sometimes even younger, but typically it begins several years or some months before menopause. Given that most women go through menopause between the ages of 50 and 52, typically peri-menopause will start during a woman?s 40?s.

During peri-menopause, the production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone will become inconsistent and gradually diminish, causing disruption to the usual menstrual cycle. Many women report having irregular periods during peri-menopause, something that is a direct reflection of their changing hormone levels. In addition, some women find their periods will be shorter or longer, and that bleeding may be either heavier or lighter. Likewise it is during the peri-menopausal stage that women will tend to experience the other symptoms which include amongst other things, hot flushes, mood swings, weight gain, depression, migraines, unclear thinking patterns, lethargy and decreased libido.

Like the symptoms of menopause, women have very different and individualized experiences of peri-menopause. What is crucial to remember is that irrespective of the symptom, peri-menopause is a perfectly normal process that simply reflects our natural aging as women.

Kathryn Whittaker has an interest in Menopause. For further information on Menopause please visit or

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