What Does It Mean To Be Premenopausal?

April 05, 2022.

We often hear different terms thrown around when it comes to the menopause transition. And, because it is a hush-hush topic, most people don’t know that women can go through different stages. Here is a look at premenopause – the first stage of menopause that is often used interchangeably with perimenopause, another stage of this transitional period.

What is premenopausal?

We often consider premenopause as the first of the four different stages of menopause. If you are premenopausal, it means you have not yet started the menopause transition. However, you are likely within a few years of beginning this transition.

In the premenopausal stage, you are still having normal periods and can still conceive. There are also no premenopausal symptoms at this stage. 

What is the premenopausal age range?

This first stage of menopause is loosely defined. Indeed, we often don’t use it that much other than to indicate that a woman may be close in age to when she may start experiencing menopause symptoms. 

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Generally, however, we could consider women in their mid to late 30s and early 40s in premenopause if they are still asymptomatic. 

Perimenopause vs. premenopause

Confusion over this first stage of menopause arises when people use the term premenopausal instead of perimenopausal. Often, the two are used interchangeably, but perimenopause is its own stage, is medically recognized, and usually happens to be the longest symptomatic stage of the menopause transition. However, most people are more likely to recognize what “premenopausal” means, as opposed to perimenopause.

Perimenopause literally means “around menopause.” This stage is the second stage of the menopause transition and is where women have the most menopause-like symptoms. Some women go through this stage for a very short time, whereas others may spend years in this stage. Indeed, we often see women in perimenopause for between 5-8 years before reaching menopause. With the average age of menopause being 51, many women spend a good portion of their 40s in perimenopause.

What are perimenopause symptoms?

There are 34 symptoms of menopause (and that list is growing). Women become symptomatic during this phase of menopause because their estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate and are not as consistent as they were in their premenopausal years. 

Some of the most common perimenopause symptoms include:

  • Irregular periods (the hallmark sign of perimenopause)
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Loss of libido
  • Vaginal Dryness
  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Brain Fog 
  • Anxiety
  • Bloating 
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches
  • Breast soreness

What About The Other Stages of Menopause? 

Now, if you are confused about all of these stages, you are not alone. We often refer to this whole process as menopause, but menopause happens to be the third (and shortest) phase of this journey. 

Menopause is basically one day in a woman’s life. It is the day when she has been period-free for 365 days. This means you have not had a period in over a year, and it is a safe assumption that your ovarian function is no longer producing adequate levels of sex hormones to regulate a menstrual cycle nor to conceive. 

Once a woman has passed that 365th day, she is technically considered postmenopausal and will spend the rest of her life in this stage. 

Regrettably, menopause symptoms don’t just drop off the moment you hit menopause. It is not uncommon for women to experience symptoms like hot flashes and mood changes for around 3-5 years after menopause. Additionally, you will take some symptoms throughout your life, including vaginal dryness (but don’t worry – there are solutions for that!).

However, some women will not follow this trajectory and will enter menopause after a medical procedure. For example, if a woman has had her ovaries removed, she will be in menopause the moment she wakes up from surgery. Some medications also force your body into menopause, so the different stages don’t always apply to every person.

If you think you may be in perimenopause, it is probably time to check in with your doctor to make sure you have resources if you need help managing any uncomfortable and burdensome symptoms. And in the meantime, join our sisterhood of fellow women in perimenopause for support, laughs, and insights into all things perimenopause. 

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.

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Julia Walker
perry expert Julia (RN, BSN, BA) is a registered nurse based in Colorado. Julia's nursing background in women’s health has ranged from neonatal and postpartum care to labor and delivery, to outpatient gynecological medicine for both adolescent and adult populations. She specializes in helping women optimize their health during perimenopause and beyond.

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