How To Know If You Are Hitting Menopause Early

We’re all familiar with menopause and the uncomfortable symptoms that come with it. It’s a completely normal part of life and marks the natural decline of reproductive hormones in a woman’s body. The official definition of menopause is 12 months after a woman’s last menstrual period, but there are a few telltale signs that you’re about to begin this transition. 

If you do experience any bleeding once you have entered menopause and have not had any vaginal bleeding for more than 12 months, it is important that you see your GP for an assessment.

As a GP in Sydney, I have plenty of patients who are entering middle age and are curious about the changes in their bodies, wondering if they are entering menopause. The transition period when a woman can start to experience menopausal signs and symptoms is called perimenopause. 

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What is perimenopause?

Perimenopause occurs when the ovaries start to produce less estrogen. The word literally means “around menopause.” This is when a woman can start to experience the symptoms, but has not actually hit menopause yet. It can last anywhere from several months to up to 10 years. 

Some women start to notice changes in their bodies and cycles as early as their mid-30s, but it’s more common for it to start in your 40s. 

Is it possible to predict when menopause will happen?

Knowing that menopause is coming can feel stressful, and I’ve had patients ask me if there is any way to predict when it’s coming so they can feel more prepared. While there are biochemical blood tests that are currently in the research phase, they have not yet been fully established to be accurate or helpful in clinical practice. So unfortunately there are no current recommended tests that are available to accurately predict when menopause may start. 

However, there are common symptoms that are recognisable. Let’s dive into them.

Symptoms of perimenopause

As you notice your body start to change, there are a few fairly common symptoms that you may experience. These include:

Irregular periods – as your body starts to produce fewer reproductive hormones, ovulation becomes more unpredictable. Your menstrual cycle will change, causing the length of time between periods to be longer or shorter or the flow to be lighter or shorter. You may also skip some periods. If you start to notice that your cycle has changed by 7 days or more for a few cycles, you may be entering early perimenopause. If you’re skipping periods with 60 days or more between each one, you could be in late perimenopause. Although your periods may start to change or become quite irregular, remember that you can still potentially fall pregnant. Talk to your doctor about contraceptive options that would be best suited for your needs. It is also important to review with your GP to make sure that there are no other reasons why your periods may have started to change. 

Hot flashes – perhaps the most well-known symptom of menopause, hot flashes are also quite common during perimenopause. You’ll suddenly feel hot, possibly sweaty and your face may get flushed. 

Sleep disturbance – sleep problems are typically due to hot flashes or night sweats, but your sleep patterns may be disturbed during this period regardless. 

Mood changes – your sleep disturbance may lead to mood swings, irritability or an increased risk of depression. However, mood changes could also happen due to reasons outside of hormonal changes.

Weight gain – in general, women tend to gain weight during this transitory period in their lives. It’s possible that the decrease in estrogen levels impacts the hormones that control fullness and appetite, thus leading to an increase in calorie consumption. You may also notice changes in your body shape. 

Low libido or vaginal dryness – sexual desire and arousal may change, and your vaginal lubrication may decrease as well, causing sex to be more painful and lowering your libido. Sometimes the vaginal dryness may lead to symptoms similar to urinary tract infections. 

Menopause is a natural part of life. As we age, we start to notice changes in our bodies and wonder if it’s our time to go through this transition. While there is no accurate way to predict when menopause will happen, and no real way to prevent it from happening early, observing the changes in your body and having an open conversation with your doctor either face-to-face or online via a digital health service can help you feel more prepared and streamline the whole process. There are proven menopause treatments that can help manage your symptoms, such as HRT therapy. Talk to your doctor about your options as your body goes through the natural phases of transition.

Dr Ai Nhi Bui is a registered GP and medical director at Rosemary Health, a digital service connecting Australians to quality healthcare online. With over 15 years of experience, Dr Bui has an interest in women’s health issues ranging from pregnancy care and sexual health to chronic conditions.

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