What are the stages of menopause?
From the moment you start puberty, up until the time you enter menopause, you will typically have your period around the same time every month, with the exception of the odd irregular period, times when you have a medical condition that interferes with your body's normal function or are pregnant.
What is a menstrual cycle?
If you’re reading this because you’re going through menopause, you probably feel as though you’ve had enough menstrual cycles in your life to not require any further explanation on these, but bear with us, this information will help make the discussion that follows easier to understand. So here goes…
The first half of your menstrual cycle involves your ovaries, which are two organs and endocrine glands, found on the sides of your uterus, producing the hormones progesterone and oestrogen. In this phase, they will produce higher levels of oestrogen. This results in the uterine lining thickening in order to prepare for the possibility of pregnancy. At the same time, an egg will begin to mature in one of your ovaries.
Around day seven to day 22, or day 14 if you have a 28-day cycle, the egg that has now matured in your ovary, will be released, this process is referred to as ovulation. Once the egg is released, your ovaries will begin to secrete more progesterone, another sex hormone. If this egg does not go through the fertilisation process with a sperm cell, then your levels of progesterone and oestrogen will begin to decrease, resulting in your body shedding the uterine lining – resulting in bleeding, known as a period.
When you begin to approach menopause, your ovaries will start to produce less oestrogen, this results in irregular periods. Thus, the term menopause is defined as your last and final menstrual cycle. You will be diagnosed with menopause when you are of a certain age and haven’t had your period for a year.
The three stages of menopause
Menopause is divided into three stages which can occur over a number of months or years. These stages are:
This is the first stage of menopause and typically begins a few years before menopause when you are still having your menstrual periods. Your hormone levels may start to fluctuate due to your ovaries starting to produce less of the hormone oestrogen. This can result in hot flushes, amongst a few other symptoms. Your periods will start to become irregular and may be longer, shorter, heavier or even lighter than what you have regarded as normal over the years. Perimenopause can last up to five years or even longer until your menstrual period stops and menopause starts. It is possible to still get pregnant during this stage, although quite unlikely.
Menopause begins when you are in your 40s or 50s and it has been 12 consecutive months since your last period. At this stage, your ovaries would have stopped releasing their eggs and the production of the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone, will significantly decrease. This is the stage that indicates the end of fertility.
The years that follow the menopausal changes in your body are known as postmenopause. During this period of time, your symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats may ease up.