The relationship between periods and menopause is a source of contradiction for many people. A woman has reached this stage after not having a period for more than 12 consecutive months. However, the time leading up to menopause, known as perimenopause, will often display many symptoms associated with menopause. During this time, women are likely to still experience periods, although they are often irregular. For most women, periods come regularly every 25 - 31 days. However, when a woman enters perimenopause, she may skip periods, experience changes in bleeding, or stop menstruating for long spans of time. Read on to learn more about irregular periods and menopause.
What Are Irregular Periods?
Irregular periods, by definition, are those which do not follow a typical monthly pattern and instead come and go unexpectedly. Women may experience periods that are infrequent or too frequent, changes in blood flow, and cramping. It is a common occurrence for a woman during perimenopause to miss several periods in a row.
Irregular periods can last several years, as the length of the perimenopause stage can vary from a couple of years up to a decade. It should be noted that for as long as a woman continues to get periods, she is able to get pregnant.
Why Do Irregular Periods Happen?
Irregular periods occur as a result of hormonal imbalance. Two important female hormones - estrogen and progesterone - are responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle and preparing the uterus for a fertilized egg each month. However, as the female body gradually stops ovulating, the monthly menstrual cycle becomes unnecessary. The body begins to slow production of menstrual-regulating hormones, leading to irregular periods. This is what happens during perimenopause. Menopause itself is actually the point of time after this change has been completed.
Irregular periods are a normal symptom for women going through menopause. However, in some rare cases, they may be a sign of something more serious. Women should consult with a healthcare professional if they are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Heavy bleeding
- Extended bleeding (more than seven days)
- Bleeding after sex
- Abdominal pain
- Excess hair growth
- Unexplained weight gain
- Accompanying odorous discharge
While irregular periods are generally caused by hormone imbalance, they can also be triggered by a myriad of other factors, such as stress, birth control usage, certain health conditions, diet, and over-exercise. Although rare for perimenopausal women, they may also be a sign of pregnancy. Click on the link below to know more about irregular periods and how to cope with them.
- Hutchinson, Susan M.D. "The Stages of a Woman's Life: Menstruation, Pregnancy, Nursing, Perimenopause, Menopause". November 2007.
- Love, Susan M.D. Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003. BMJ Group. "Menopause: What is it?" Patient Leaflet. 2007