Health & Wellness

What is the difference between perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause?
We all remember when we were about to hit puberty, or even a few years before, and an adult (or a weird VHS in a health class) sat us down and told us about the exciting, natural, and inevitable changes that would happen to our bodies as we grew. Unfortunately, we don’t get the same kind of talk when we become adults and go through perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause.

This also means that you probably don’t learn the basics about what these processes are, how they differ from each other, and what resources are out there to help you feel like yourself as you go through these changes. We can’t give you a VHS of an old health class, but we can tell you what they are and what you need to know about them.
What are the perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause?
Menopause is the time when a woman with a uterus who used to get her period or could get pregnant no longer gets her period. The prefixes peri- and post- refer to the time “around or before” menopause and the year after it. This is the time when your cycle slows down, becomes irregular, and then stops, and the year after you stop getting your period for good.
The National Institute on Aging says that menopause is when a woman has not had a period for 12 months. “The years before menopause, when women might have changes in their monthly cycles, hot flashes, or other symptoms, are called perimenopause or the menopausal transition.”

But what’s going on inside your body at that time?
“A woman may start to notice some changes in her body and menstrual cycle as a result of fluctuating hormone levels,” Dr. Kiarra King, MD, FACOG, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, told SheKnows before about the changes that happen during perimenopause.
Perimenopause usually starts when a woman is in her 40s, but it can start earlier or later. It can last anywhere from seven to fourteen years as the body starts to make less estrogen and progesterone. If you’re still having sexual activity without protection and you don’t want to get pregnant, you should still have some kind of birth control handy. Menopause can start earlier, though, if a woman has a disease or treatment (like some cancer treatments) or if her ovaries are surgically removed.
Everyone has a different body, and just like everyone’s periods are different, so is the way they go through menopause. As the body stops putting as much energy into making reproductive hormones, there can be changes in how their body looks and feels (where they hold their weight is a common change), how it works, and how healthy their bones and hearts are, along with the more common symptoms like trouble sleeping due to vasomotor symptoms (night sweats and hot flashes, baby! ), mood changes, bladder and vaginal problems, changes in sexual desire, and decreasing fertility.

When a person is in the post-menopause stage, they may still feel some of the symptoms from the earlier stages. This is because they have less estrogen at this point. After menopause, many women still have hot flashes, trouble sleeping, mood swings, and dry genitalia. They should talk to their doctors if these symptoms get worse or if they have post-menopausal bleeding.

It’s important to know what you might be going through during each stage of peri-menopause, menopause, and post-menopause, and to be ready to talk to your doctor about what will help you keep living the life you want to live. Even after menopause, you still need to have your annual appointment with your OBGYN, and it might help to start talking to them sooner rather than later about your family history, plans for your reproductive health, and lifestyle choices that can help you feel more comfortable with the change.

You can also talk to your doctor about treatment options if your symptoms get so bad during any of these times that they make it hard for you to live your life.

Menopause happens to everyone with a uterus, and we don’t need a culture of silence or confusion to keep us from fully understanding and fully living in our bodies as we get older. The more you know about what’s going on inside your body, the happier and healthier you’ll be for years to come. So, talk to your doctor to get the help you need to be ready and well-informed for each stage.

Since estrogen protects both your bones and your heart, it’s easier to break bones or get hurt, and you’re more likely to get osteoporosis because the average person loses 1-2 percent of bone density each year after menopause. In terms of the heart, they say that higher estrogen production protects against heart attacks, heart disease, and strokes. However, if you don’t move around as much, this can lead to higher cholesterol and blood pressure, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

How can you get ready for every step?