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How Common are Irregular Periods During Menopause?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2016
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Irregular periods during menopause, as it is classically defined, do not occur because menopause is the cessation of periods, and is considered over when women haven’t experienced a period for approximately a year. Informally, menopause may be discussed as the gradual process of menstruation ceasing, and describe it as taking place over many years. The period of time before menstruation completely ceases is sometimes called premenopause or perimenopause, and doctors may suggest a time window for these beginning anywhere from 10-15 years before true menopause occurs. Many women first notice irregular periods during menopause in these pre- or perimenopausal stages, and as they approach period cessation, these irregularities frequently increase.

A trend in starting families and parenting has many women choosing to have children in their late 30s or 40s, but from a purely biological standpoint, this is not the best time. Female hormones, which support conception and pregnancy, tend to be most stable and regular when women are much younger, and the trend toward conceiving at older ages reflects some of the problems this decision causes. Fertility levels drop as women age, which also means hormone levels drop. This can lead to symptoms like irregular periods or unreliable ovulation.

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This example illustrates that irregular periods before or during menopause may begin as early as the 30s, and are due to less reliable hormonal production. If a woman has previously been exceptionally regular, she might note only subtle changes occurring occasionally, as hormone levels ever so slightly decline. Women who have already been dealing with irregular menstruation could notice more pronounced symptoms. Most of these changes are slight, but they do have a progressive quality to them.

As women reach their 40s, more of them will increasingly note irregular periods. Though most women don’t hit full menopause until they are about 50, hormonal fluctuations become increasingly noticeable. The first hot flashes, weight gain, increased risk for depression, and more significant premenstrual syndrome symptoms occur too, well before true menopause occurs.

Actual irregularities can be characterized in a number of ways. Cycles could be farther apart, shorter and more frequent, or of unpredictable length. Other changes could include increase or decrease of water retention, amount of bleeding, mood changes, or headaches.

In one context, it is very important to understand irregular periods during menopause. As long as periods are occurring, and even though older women may have lower fertility levels, there is still a chance of pregnancy. Usually women are not considered to be through menopause and completely infertile until they have not had a period for a year. Some women mistakenly assume that being in any stage of menopause ensures against pregnancy, but this is untrue. No matter how irregular periods during menopause may seem, they still represent potential fertility.

Bleeding after true menopause occurs is not normal and this can indicate significant health problems. Women should get medical attention if they notice this symptom after period cessation.

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