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Perimenopause v. Menopause: What’s the Difference?

Author: Manisha Purohit, M.D., FACOG

Your mother, sister, or girlfriends may have given you some idea of what you can expect with regards to menopause symptoms. But, if you’re like many women, the topic of perimenopause rarely comes up. Instead, perimenopause and menopause are lumped together into one phase of life when, really, they’re two distinct stages.

What Is Perimenopause?

Perimenopause refers to the phase leading up to menopause. This phase can begin as early as your mid-30s or as late as your late 40s. This is a transitional phase as your body shifts from fertility to infertility (menopause).

It is still possible to become pregnant during perimenopause; however, the chances are slight. Beginning at age 40, the fertility rate per month is about 5 percent. This is largely due to uneven estrogen levels, irregular menstrual cycles, and menstrual cycles in which ovulation does not occur.

Common perimenopause symptoms include:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Hot flashes and night sweats
  • Decreased fertility
  • Changes in sexual desire
  • Mood swings
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Incontinence
  • Changing cholesterol levels
  • Bone loss (due to estrogen loss)

If you have gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, then the perimenopause phase has likely ended and you have entered menopause.

What Is Menopause?

By medical standards, menopause occurs after 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period have elapsed. Typically, menopause occurs around your late 40s or early 50s. (In the U.S., the average age is 51.) In addition to the symptoms of perimenopause, you may experience:

  • Weight gain / slowed metabolism
  • Loss of breast fullness
  • Thinning hair and dry skin

Again, one of the main ways to tell the difference between perimenopause and menopause is to track the time since your most recent menstrual period. If it’s been more than one year, then you have very likely transitioned from perimenopause to menopause.

Still not sure if you’re experiencing perimenopause or menopause symptoms? Take our online assessment to learn more about what your symptoms could mean. Or, call 480-257-2700 to schedule an appointment.
Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.

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