What is Menopause?

Understanding the 3 Stages of Menopause and How to Navigate Them with Confidence

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Menopause is a significant part of your journey as a women, yet it’s often surrounded by mystery and misconceptions.

In the UK, the average age of menopause is 51-52 years old – with 1 in 100 women experiencing the menopause before the age of 40, and 1 in 1000 before the age of 30.

So this isn’t simply something that “happens in your 50’s”.

Which is why it’s so important to take closer look at the three key stages of menopause – what you can expect and how to manage them – so you can be empowered to navigate them with knowledge, confidence and grace for yourself.

Let’s get stuck in …

1. Perimenopause: The Transition Phase

Perimenopause, often called the “menopausal transition,” is the first stage in the menopause process. It usually begins in a woman’s 40s but you can start as early as your late 30s or as late as your early 50s. This stage lasts an average of 5 years, but it can be shorter or longer for a lot of women.

I personally started to notice the changes when I was 38, although it took me a couple of years of experiencing symptoms such as heavy periods and anxiety before I started to join the dots.

What Happens During Perimenopause?

Perimenopause is characterised by fluctuating levels of oestrogen and progesterone, the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle.

These hormonal changes lead to a variety of symptoms, which can vary widely from woman to woman. Common symptoms include:

  • Irregular Periods: Menstrual cycles may become unpredictable, with periods that are shorter, longer, heavier, or lighter than usual.
  • Hot Flashes and Night Sweats: Sudden feelings of heat and sweating, often accompanied by a flushed face.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early.
  • Mood Changes: Increased irritability, sadness, or anxiety due to hormonal fluctuations.
  • Vaginal Dryness: Lower oestrogen levels can cause dryness and discomfort during intercourse.
  • Decreased Libido: A drop in sex drive is common for many women during this stage.
Perimenopause Symptoms
Learn more about the symptoms of perimenopause here.

Managing Perimenopause

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way to helping you manage your perimenopause symptoms – things like:

  • Staying Active: Regular physical activity, particularly weight-bearing exercises can improve mood, aid sleep, and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Balanced Diet: Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, eating high protein, with whole grains are great for supporting overall health. Also be sure to incorporate phytoestrogens (soy, flaxseed) into your diet.
  • Stress Management: Techniques like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing can reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
  • Supplements: Calcium, Vitamin D, Magnesium and Omega-3s are all essential vitamins and minerals for your perimenopause journey.

    Listen to my ‘Mastering Hormonal Balance in Perimenopause’ podcast, where I chat with Ollie Matthews – functional medicine practitioner, and dive into some hot topics related to health and wellness!

2. Menopause: The Milestone

Menopause is defined as the one day where you’ve not had a period for more than 12 months. Everything before this one day is considered perimenopause – and this journey can start 5-10 years (sometimes up to 15 years) before this one day.

In the UK, the average age of menopause is 51-52, and this stage marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. 

What Happens During Menopause?

During menopause, the ovaries stop releasing eggs and produce significantly less oestrogen and progesterone. This decrease in hormone levels brings an end to menstrual cycles.

Symptoms experienced during perimenopause may continue into menopause, including:

  • Hot Flashes and Night Sweats: These can persist and may even intensify for some women.
  • Sleep Issues: Insomnia and night sweats can continue to affect sleep quality.
  • Mood Swings: Emotional fluctuations may persist as the body adjusts to new hormone levels.
  • Physical Changes: Vaginal dryness, changes in skin elasticity and weight gain, particularly around the abdomen.

Navigating Menopause

While menopause is a natural part of ageing, being aware of and managing your symptoms can dramatically improve your quality of life.

There are many options that you can consider:

  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): This can help alleviate symptoms by replenishing hormone levels and I would recommend consulting with your healthcare provider to understand the benefits and risks.
  • Alternative Therapies: Herbal remedies and acupuncture are some of the alternative therapies that can provide relief for you.
  • Healthy Lifestyle: Continuing healthy habits like regular exercise, a balanced diet, and stress management remains crucial.
  • Coaching: Working with a menopause wellness practitioner/health coach can provide a huge amount of support for you as you navigate through this change in your body.

3. Postmenopause: Life After Menopause

Postmenopause refers to the years following menopause. This stage lasts for the rest of a your life. While many symptoms of menopause gradually ease, lower hormone levels can have long-term effects on health, so this is an important stage to be aware of.

What Happens During Postmenopause?

During postmenopause, the risk for certain health conditions increases due to lower oestrogen levels, including:

  • Osteoporosis: Reduced oestrogen can lead to a decrease in bone density, increasing the risk of fractures.
  • Heart Disease: Lower oestrogen levels can affect heart health, leading to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Urinary Incontinence: Weakened pelvic muscles can cause bladder control issues.

Maintaining Health in Postmenopause

Focusing on long-term health is essential during postmenopause:

  • Bone Health: Consuming calcium and vitamin D, and engaging in weight-bearing exercises can help maintain bone density.
  • Heart Health: Eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking can protect heart health.
  • Pelvic Health: Kegel exercises can strengthen pelvic muscles and improve bladder control.
  • Regular Check-Ups: Regular visits to your healthcare provider for screenings for osteoporosis, breast cancer and heart disease are important.
  • Skin Health: Moisturise regularly and protect yourself in the sun.
  • Emotional well-being: Stay socially active, pursue hobbies and maintain mental health support.

Embracing the Journey

Menopause is a natural and inevitable part of life that every woman experiences differently. By understanding the three stages of menopause now, you are better equipped to manage the changes and challenges that come with each phase.

Remember, this journey is unique to each of us, and embracing it with knowledge, self-care, and support can make all the difference.

Wendy Griffith is a certified Health & Wellness coach and Menopause Wellness Practitioner. Drawing from her own personal experience, she specialises in helping women in their perimenopause and menopause stages. She relishes helping supporting women to thrive through these phases of their life, and supporting those who have gone into early menopause due to hysterectomy or cancer treatments. Wendy also advises companies on their Menopause Policy and wellbeing programmes. She is regularly asked to speak and train organisations to empower women with education and knowledge on their menopause journey. Download Wendy’s Thriving in Perimenopause guide here.