Menopause does not happen all at once—it is a transition, and for most women, there is an early stage, called perimenopause, or menopausal transition, which starts before the actual onset of menopause. Perimenopause—peri, Greek for “around” or “near,” + menopause—usually starts between ages 40 and 55, but it can start much earlier. Perimenopause begins with the onset of irregular menstruation and lasts until 1 year after your last period.
During perimenopause, your ovaries slowly stop releasing eggs and producing hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
This causes the signs and symptoms that people associate with menopause, such as irregular menses, hot flashes and mood swings.
Your periods may be irregular for a while—possibly for years—before menopause. But you can still get pregnant, so you should continue using contraception during this time if you want to avoid an unplanned pregnancy.
During perimenopause, you can have symptoms like menopause, such as hot flashes and mood changes. Your period may go away and come back at unpredictable intervals. Since intermittent ovulation can occur, you can still get pregnant in perimenopause.
For most women, perimenopause lasts two to eight years. You can’t say for sure that menopause has begun until a year has passed since your last period.
In perimenopause and shortly after menopause starts, you may have other changes, such as hot flashes, trouble sleeping, mood swings, and changes to your body, such as vaginal dryness. You may have changes in your sex drive and you may find it hard to focus on what you’re doing or find the right word.
After perimenopause is menopause. Technically, menopause is the specific moment when your periods stop, right after your last period. But of course without the passage of time there is no way for you to know definitively which is your final period. Menopause is confirmed when you have not had a period for a full year.
While these changes are normal and natural, you may feel a bit uncomfortable at times—please seek medical treatment if symptoms persist and become problematic for you.