You might not think much about your period. Until it plays games with you, that is. One month it’s normal; the next it’s barely there (or not there at all). It’s then that you might begin to think not only about your period — but about menopause.
Menopause is a significant event in a woman’s life and a normal part of the aging process, marking the end of your reproductive years. But it doesn’t just happen all at once; there are three distinct stages of menopause, and the process is gradual. Menopause actually begins years before your periods come to a complete stop. It’s far from a slow and steady decline, but more like a wild roller coaster ride. Here’s what to expect and how to keep yourself healthy.
The 3 stages of menopause
Stage 1: Perimenopause
The first signs of perimenopause, the stage when your ovaries begin producing less estrogen and progesterone, are usually hot flashes, breast tenderness or irregular periods. Your flow can be shorter, longer or heavier than normal; some months you may even skip a period. Some women also experience mood swings, fatigue and weight gain.
And then there’s the sleep issue. A recent study found that hormonal fluctuations during perimenopause can make falling, and staying, asleep especially problematic.1 (Here’s how to get better sleep — starting tonight.)
News flash about hot flashes: Up to 75% of women in perimenopause will get these heat surges. But recent research reveals that hot flashes can begin even earlier — during the late reproductive years.2
When does perimenopause begin?
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Perimenopause usually begins in your mid-to-late 40s, but can start as early as in your 30s. As you get within 1-2 years of menopause, symptoms are likely to become more frequent and bothersome. During perimenopause, even though your fertility is declining, you’ll still get your period and you can still become pregnant. Although the experience is different for every woman, the actual biology of perimenopause is basically the same.
How long does perimenopause last?
For some, perimenopause lasts a few months; for others, it can continue for as long as 10 years. You may have very little clue that you’re in perimenopause other than a missed period now and then, while your friend might be dealing with a multitude of maddening symptoms.
How will I know?
A diagnosis is usually made based on your symptoms, although your doctor might order a blood test to check your hormone levels.
Stage 2: Menopause
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If you keep track of your menstrual cycle, it’ll be easier to tell when you’ve entered menopause. Compared to perimenopause, the signs of menopause are pretty obvious: Once you’ve gone for 12 consecutive months without a period, you’re officially in menopause. Your ovaries are no longer releasing eggs or producing much estrogen. Enter common woes like weight gain, hot flashes, sleep problems and more.
The average age of menopause in the U.S. is 51.3 Early menopause (aka “premature” menopause) occurs when women go through menopause before the age of 40, whether it happens naturally or is induced. Premature menopause can be caused by genetics, illness, surgery (like a hysterectomy), chemotherapy, hormone treatments or radiation. Many women who experience premature menopause experience more intense symptoms than those who go through menopause naturally.4
Stage 3: Postmenopause
You’ve entered the third stage of menopause — postmenopause — once you’ve stopped having a period. Life without a period can also mean liberating yourself from pregnancy worries; easing off of hot flashes (although for some women, these heat surges can linger for as long as 11 years, according to some studies5); and banishing brain fog, as evidenced in this study, which found that “menopause transition-relative cognitive difficulties may be time-limited.”6
All good things, granted; but take note: Because we’re living longer after menopause — we spend roughly one-third of our lives post-menopause — it’s even more important to be aware of your health at this point.7 That’s because lower levels of estrogen can put you at an increased risk of conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.7
Making all the stages of menopause more manageable
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- Exercising regularly
- Quitting smoking
- Cutting back on alcohol
- Managing/reducing your stress
- Getting adequate sleep
- Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
The same advice Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends for menopause could also help support weight loss. If you’ve noticed your clothes don’t fit quite the same way as they did before menopause, you’re not alone. Midlife women gain 1.5 pounds per year, on average, according to The North American Menopause Society.7 The good news is, returning to a healthy weight isn’t impossible: Here’s how to take a proactive stance.
Weight gain during menopause
Gaining weight during menopause is normal, but it can certainly be unexpected. Hormonal changes may make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen, compared to your hips and thighs, say experts at the Mayo Clinic.9 And abdominal fat doesn’t just affect the way your clothes fit — it could affect your health, too. Excess belly fat is linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke or high blood pressure, according to Harvard Health.10
Making adjustments to your lifestyle, including getting plenty of sleep, taking time to de-stress, exercising regularly and eating a healthy, balanced diet can all help to support your weight loss goals. If you’re not sure where to start, Jenny Craig can help. We provide you with everything you need to succeed: delicious, chef-crafted meals and one-on-one support from a weight loss coach.
Book your free appointment today to get started.
Sheryl has penned hundreds of print and online articles for publications and websites, including Parade, AARP, Chicago Tribune, Family Circle, Woman's Day, Everyday Health, WebMD, HealthyWomen, CNBC and many others. Her writing reflects her deep passion and curiosity about nutrition, health, beauty, fitness, and wellness.
Favorite healthy snack: watermelon (a big bang for the buck!)
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
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Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig