Menstruation Patterns During Menopause
Menopause brings many physical and emotional changes to a woman but one of the most common and pronounced changes involve menstrual patterns – or irregular periods. Although the term 'menopause' is usually used to describe all of the changes leading up to a woman's last period, actual menopause itself is defined as the day one year from when a woman has her last period. If you think about the definition of menopause, you will see that the hormonal changes are all to prepare your body for its last period.
It is natural and expected that most women will have some irregularity and a gradual changing of the menstrual cycle prior to menopause. While the average age of menopause is fifty-one years old, varying menstrual patterns can start in a woman's forties and for some, may even begin in their mid or late thirties and upwards.
Menopause and Premenstrual Syndrome
There can be some confusion around premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause. This confusion can occur because some of the symptoms of PMS are similar to those experienced by women approaching menopause. Emotional outbursts, fatigue, headaches and a variety of shared symptoms could mean that you mistake the symptoms of menopause for symptoms of PMS. If in doubt, it's best to speak to your general practitioner so that you can be aware of what is happening to your body, which will allow you to make lifestyle adjustments and obtain treatment where necessary.
Hormones and Menstrual Patterns
Typically, it is approximately five years before menopause occurs that a woman will begin to experience changes to her menstrual cycle. These changes signify that a woman's production of hormones is changing. Your hormones are chemicals produced by different areas of your body. Hormones will both stimulate and exert control over many important functions of your body. In a woman, oestrogen and progesterone nurture a habitable environment in the womb after a woman's egg is fertilised by a male's sperm. Not only that, but oestrogen and progesterone have the responsibility for a woman's bleeding each month during menstruation, when a woman's uterine lining sheds if she has not become pregnant. Oestrogen and progesterone have even more roles – influencing our moods and emotions.
Periods Stopping Abruptly
As a woman ages and begins to approach menopause, her levels of these hormones change, which leads to irregular periods. In fact, a woman's periods may even occur more frequently prior to halting completely. A smaller number of women will find that their periods stop quite abruptly. While this is typically normal, it is still wise to see a doctor to ensure that you have not become pregnant. Periods can also stop abruptly if a woman undergoes surgical menopause, which occurs when her ovaries and womb are removed, perhaps as part of a hysterectomy procedure. In this instance, other menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and mood changes can become more pronounced than in women where menopause occurs naturally and gradually.
Periods Stopping Gradually
If you fall under the majority, your periods will gradually stop as you approach menopause. The duration of time lasting from one period to another will typically lengthen although for some, it can actually be shorter. Bleeding may become lighter until periods stop completely. Usually, this pattern of a gradual tapering off is one you are more likely to experience although with menopause, the range is still quite large for what is considered normal.
Keeping Track of Irregular Periods
Some women like to use a menstrual diary to keep track of their irregular periods as they begin to approach menopause. Keeping a menstrual diary can help women to feel empowered and more in control of the natural changes they experience as their bodies mature. In the perimenopause years, a woman's ovaries will start to become less responsive and periods become irregular, along with other menopausal changes in the body. Although hormones are still 'working' during perimenopause, this is the time when your cycle will change in comparison with your younger years. With all of these changes, you will be less fertile than you were prior to the hormone changes and your flow and cycle will probably vary from month to month. Once you experience your last period, however, the twelve-month clinical time period occurs that will define menopause.
It can be inconvenient and frustrating to deal with irregular periods as you approach menopause. While some women may experience a sudden halt to periods or a consistent increase or decrease in cycle length until periods stop, other women will have very erratic periods prior to them stopping. It is this third pattern that is the most commonly experienced menstrual pattern prior to menopause.
While you will need to handle these changes as they occur, try to keep aware during any frustration that this is all a natural part of your body preparing itself for menopause. Indeed, many younger women who suffer from menstrual cramps and other menstrual problems almost relish the day when their periods will end! Try to appreciate menopause for the positive change that it is, which will then allow you to respect and understand your changing menstruation patterns as a necessary part of menopause and ageing.