While irregular periods are one of the first signs that menopause is approaching, many women are caught off guard by this symptom. A woman who has had a menstrual cycle like clockwork for her whole life may suddenly find herself with erratic and irregular periods. Other women may find that their usually irregular periods become regular.
In any case, women are often left with many questions about irregular periods during menopause. Continue reading to find answers to the most frequently asked questions about irregular periods during menopause.
Q: What Are Irregular Periods?
Short answer: Irregular periods are any deviation from a woman's normal cycle.
Long answer: The average menstrual cycle is approximately 28 days, with bleeding days averaging five, and blood flow between two and eight tablespoons. Thus, anything that differs from this can be considered irregular.
However, in reality, not all women experience "normal" menstruation. Thus, irregular periods for one woman may be normal for the next. The definition of irregular periods usually depends on each individual woman and her menstrual history.
Read on to learn about the common characteristics of irregular periods.
Q: What Are the Typical Characteristics of Irregular Periods?
While irregular periods vary, the most common characteristics include:
Shortened time between periods. This is more common early in menopause.
Longer times between periods or missed periods. This is more common in later menopause.
Heavier or lighter flow. Very heavy flow should be discussed with a doctor, as it may indicate a more serious condition.
Pain during periods. While some cramping is normal, severe pain should be mentioned to a doctor.
Continue reading to learn more about the onset of irregular periods during menopause.
Q: When Do Irregular Periods Usually Start?
Short answer: It depends, but irregular periods during menopause usually begin between ages 45 and 55.
Long answer: Though irregular periods can occur at any time, they are often the first sign that a woman has begun the transition into menopause. Women in their mid-forties to mid-fifties often begin to have irregular periods, as the body begins to decrease its production of estrogen and progesterone in preparation for the cessation of menstrual periods.
Read below to find out how long irregular periods usually last during the menopause transition.
Q: How Long Do Irregular Periods Typically Last?
Short answer: It varies for each individual woman, but usually anywhere from a few months to a few years.
Did you know?
A woman is said to have reached menopause when she has not had her period for one year.
Long answer: The amount of time for which a woman experiences irregular periods depends largely upon how long her perimenopause stage lasts. Generally, once a woman begins having irregular periods, they will continue until she reaches menopause or until she treats the source of her symptoms, which is hormonal imbalance.
Q: What Causes Irregular Periods during Menopause?
Short answer: Decreasing levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body lead to menstrual irregularities.
Long answer: The underlying reason that women experience irregular periods during menopause is hormonal change. When the transition to menopause begins, the body begins to produce less estrogen and progesterone, which directly affects the menstrual cycle. Thus, irregular periods are often a sign that the body is heading towards menopause.
Q: Can Other Conditions Cause Irregular Periods?
Short answer: Yes, and for this reason, it is wise to speak with a doctor about irregular periods.
Long answer: A number of physical conditions and lifestyle choices can cause or impact irregular periods. Health causes include, but are not limited to, conditions such as cancer, reproductive disorders, and eating disorders. Poor diet, stress, and inadequate or excessive exercise can also cause or aggravate irregular periods.
Q: Do Irregular Periods Mean That a Woman Is No Longer Fertile?
Short answer: Not necessarily.
Long answer: Recent research shows that many women experiencing irregular periods as they approach menopause have anovulatory cycles, meaning that they do not release an egg and therefore cannot conceive that month.
Did you know?
After the age of 35, average fertility rates in women show a rapid decline.
While this appears to be true for many menopausal women, it is still possible to get pregnant before menopause, despite experiencing irregular periods. Many doctors recommend that women with irregular periods continue to use a reliable form of birth control until they have not had a period for one year.
Q: When Should a Woman Contact Her Doctor?
Although the characteristics of irregular periods may vary from woman to woman, certain warning signs may indicate a more serious condition. If experiencing any of the following, it may be a good idea to speak with a doctor:
- Soaking through tampon or pad every one or two hours
- Bleeding that lasts longer than a week
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Severe abdominal pain, even when not menstruating
What Are the Best Ways to Cope with Irregular Periods?
Three approaches can be considered for treating irregular periods: (1) lifestyle changes, (2) alternative remedies, and (3) medications and surgery. Most experts recommend that women begin with the least aggressive approach and move to the next level of treatment only if symptoms persist. Click ontreatments for irregular periods to discover the best route to relief.
- Love, S. (2003). Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press.
- National Health Service UK. (2015). Irregular periods. Retrieved April 6, 2016, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-irregular/Pages/Introduction.aspx