What Is The Difference Between Perimenopause And Menopause?

As women we go through quite the hormonal rollercoaster during our lifetimes. From puberty and possibly pregnancy, right through to perimenopause and the menopause, it can be an arduous journey at times. In this article I’m going to look more specifically at the latter stage of our hormone experience and look at the difference between perimenopause and menopause. Because it wasn’t until recently that many of us, myself included, had even heard of the word perimenopause. But it turns out this stage can be way more problematic than the menopause.

So, let’s delve a bit deeper and look at the difference between perimenopause and menopause:

What Is Menopause?

Let’s start by looking at menopause, because for most of us this is a word that is perhaps more familiar.

How ironic that the word menopause is prefixed with the word ‘men’ and yet has absolutely nothing to do with men in the slightest. In fact, the word ‘men’ derives from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘month’. And so, menopause literally translates as a pause in your month, aka your monthly cycle.

In the past, menopause was very much a taboo subject, which rarely got spoken about. If it was, it would be in hushed tones and surrounded with an air of embarrassment and shame. Even among female family members, this was a subject that just wasn’t discussed. And if you think about it, this has been a similar story with periods. Ahead of getting my first period, my mum gave me a book, I certainly don’t remember sitting down and talking to her about it. It was all a bit, this is what us women have to go through, let’s just crack on and deal with it and not mention it again. Thankfully, times have changed. My daughter and I are very open about our periods and I know having spoken to friends that conversations around periods have become way more normalised.

For both menopause and perimenopause however, there is still a stigma attached. Barriers are slowly starting to be broken, but there is also still a long way to go. And I think some of that stigma comes down to lack of knowledge about menopause and perimenopause and what the differences are between the two.

Menopause has long been associated with hot and flustered middle aged women. And while there is some degree of truth in this, there is far more going on. Menopause, the pause in our monthly cycle, is when our periods stop. But did you know that this is a very specific date? In fact, it is just one day. Women reach menopause when they haven’t had a period for an entire year. So, if a year has passed with no bleeding, not even a tiny bit here or there, then happy menopause day to you! And that’s it. That is your menopause. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Once that day has passed you are now in the post-menopause stage – as in you are past your menopause – but that’s an entirely different blogpost!

What Is Perimenopause?

OK, so we’ve established what menopause is, let’s now explore perimenopause. The ‘peri’ part of the word perimenopause means before or around. So, in this case it means prior to or around about the time of menopause. Which is all a bit vague really, isn’t it?  Because arguably all of the time before that elusive menopause day could be classed as perimenopause, could it not?

Well no, you see perimenopause comes with its own added extras, little indicators if you like. This means that perimenopause is officially seen as the time before menopause when your hormone levels start to deplete and along with this comes a whole army of different perimenopause symptoms.

These symptoms can include, but are not limited to:

  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • Brain fog
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of libido
  • Irregular periods
  • Heavier periods
  • Fatigue
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Sleep issues
  • Headaches

Some women sail through perimenopause without even realising there are changes afoot. Some may get one or two of these symptoms to varying degrees of severity. And some poor women will get the full whammy and some. Genetics play a part, for instance if your mum experienced certain symptoms during her perimenopause then the odds are greatly increased that you may experience them too. So, with that in mind, make sure you talk to your mum!

The problem is that although most women start to notice perimenopause symptoms at about the age of 45, some women will get them in their early 40s, some in their late 30s, and some possibly even before that. It is a completely individual process, that realistically you have no idea when it will affect you. You just need to know that at some point it will. Just like getting your period, it is inevitable and inescapable.

Which is why talking about it, reading about it, learning everything you possibly can about it, is so important. I say this all the time, but knowledge is power. The more you know about some of the things that might happen to you, the less daunting it is, the less scary it is, and the more in control you can feel about the situation. Because honestly, it can be a bit of a shit show. Let’s not beat around the bush here. Perimenopause can be a tricky old time. But, and this is a huge BUT, there is help out there, there is information out there, there are support groups out there, and perimenopause conversations are happening.

So, What Is The Difference Between Perimenopause And Menopause?

Well, it’s simple really. Perimenopause is when you are still having periods, but your cycle is gradually starting to come to an end, your hormone levels are starting to drop, and there are changes going on in your body. Menopause is what comes after this. The elusive day when you haven’t had a period for a year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean your symptoms will magically disappear overnight, quite the contrary, if anything they may worsen. However, it does mean you no longer have to deal with your period each month, which also means you are no longer fertile.

In simple terms, it’s kind of like a three-course meal.  For starters we have perimenopause, then we move onto menopause for the main meal, and we finish up with a post-menopause dessert.

Stick around for more articles about all three of these stages, as I’ll be covering them in more detail as well as talking about my own personal experience of perimenopause and HRT.