Menopause can be a very challenging time - the biggest shock for many women and often the hardest thing to come to terms with is that symptoms like hot flushes last for an average of 7 and a half years. Menopausal symptoms start at a younger age than many are expecting, and can go on beyond menopause. 

The physical and mental challenges of menopause also come at a time when many women are juggling careers, growing children, older parents, and may be facing relationship issues or health concerns and can easily feel overwhelmed. 

We are here to help. 

In this post, we will simplify, clarify, and guide you through the stages of menopause. You are not alone, and we have both the clinical expertise and the group support available to help. 

What are the stages of menopause? 

What most people call ‘the menopause’ is actually made up of three different stages - each with different symptoms and changes. 

Perimenopause 

Many women aren’t aware of how early symptoms can start, and they often don’t realise that changes in mood, sleep, or confidence may be linked to menopause. This earliest phase of menopause is called the perimenopause. Your periods stop following a normal pattern, usually becoming less frequent, and you may notice unusually heavy or light periods. Most women are around 45 when this starts.

This is also when you may start having hot flushes and night sweats, or notice sleep changes, vaginal and urinary symptoms, and changes in mood and sexual function. Not all women experience all symptoms - every menopause is different, and symptoms can also change depending on whether you are in early or late perimenopause. 

Menopause 

Menopause is a one-day, one-time occurrence. It’s the first day of your final menstrual period. That’s it. We often talk about menopause as a phase, and that’s okay too, but it’s important to understand the definition so you can better communicate with your healthcare providers.

This is when your periods stop altogether. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that the symptoms stop, and your sleep, sex drive and mood may remain affected. On average, women undergo menopause at 51. Menopause lasts for 4 years on average and usually finishes around the age of 55. 

Postmenopause 

When you haven’t had a period for a year, you are considered postmenopausal. Some of your symptoms may reduce, but others, like sleep changes, may continue. And being postmenopausal has its own challenges, as you are at higher risk of conditions like osteoporosis, heart disease, vaginal dryness and bladder issues, and you may notice your skin ageing faster. 

What causes menopause? 

Hormones play a vital role in our bodies and their impact is especially noticeable during the menopause. Oestrogen is a female sex hormone and it has more of an effect on symptoms of the menopause than you may think. Levels of oestrogen vary during the different stages of menopause and eventually, your ovaries stop producing oestrogen altogether. These changes cause the symptoms described above. 

Can menopause start early? 

A range of factors affect when menopause starts and these include family history, smoking and undergoing cancer treatment or a hysterectomy. Menopause can also come on earlier than normal if you have chromosome defects, autoimmune diseases or epilepsy. The Daisy Network is a charity that providess resources for women who experience early menopause.