A woman’s reproductive health undergoes many changes over the course of her lifetime. From the first menstrual period, through the childbearing years, and all the way to menopause and beyond, hormones are undergoing major shifts, making each stage distinct. Overall, the cycle of women’s health can be broken down into four main stages.
During the pre-menopause stage of life, a woman is having her regular menstrual cycle, is in her prime childbearing years, and has no noticeable symptoms of menopause. Technically, a woman is in the pre-menopause stage at any point before entering perimenopause. Recognising this stage is key as you can prepare for the changes ahead
Perimenopause is a transitional stage between pre-menopause and menopause. This stage typically begins in a woman’s 40s and lasts for several years. During this time, the results of hormonal shifts will become noticeable as the ovaries slowly stop working. As oestrogen production slows and fewer eggs are released, common perimenopause symptoms such as the following often occur:
- Shorter and increasingly irregular periods
- Frequent changes in mood
- Decreased sex drive
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
- Aching joints or muscles
While fertility is reduced and reproduction less likely, a woman can still become pregnant during perimenopause.
Menopause can affect women ranging from their 30s to their 60s. However, the average age of menopause onset in UK women is 51. To be considered in menopause, a woman must hot have had a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months. The ovaries have stopped working entirely and are no longer releasing eggs.
For menopausal women, hot flashes are the most common complaint. In addition, these hot flashes may be accompanied by an increased heart rate. Women may also notice decreased breast fullness, thinner hair, increased growth of facial hair, or urinary incontinence as the pelvic floor becomes more relaxed.
Once a woman has surpassed a full year without a menstrual cycle, she is considered to be postmenopausal. She will remain in this stage for the rest of her life. Fortunately, during this time, the symptoms that marked the perimenopause and menopause years begin to subside, leaving most women more physically comfortable. However, due to decreased oestrogen, the risk for health conditions such as osteoporosis and heart disease increases during this time. For women who have reached the postmenopausal stage of life, a healthy lifestyle and ongoing therapy can be key to keeping hormone-related complications at bay.
There are a number of therapy an treatment options for all stages of menopause and beyond so research is key.