Are irregular periods the beginning of menopause?

Dr. Afua Mintah, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

New irregular periods in women over the age of 40 could be the beginning of the transition into menopause, especially if there are other associated perimenopausal symptoms. Any new irregular period should be discussed with an OBGYN.

Perimenopause is "the time around menopause," marked from the time at which periods become irregular and hormone levels begin changing until 12 months after the last menstrual bleed. Menopause is defined as when periods stop completely. Menopause itself is therefore recognized 12 months after the fact. Irregular periods can be the beginning of menopause, but there are other causes of irregular periods as well. If you are having irregular periods, your periods had been regular before that, and you are around the age of 47 (average age of onset is 47.5 years old), it is most likely menopause, but you can discuss your particular situation with your doctor.
Patricia Geraghty, NP
Women's Health

Irregular periods can be caused by many things, including the beginning of menopause. The control of our menstrual cycles is a result of the communication between the brain and ovaries. The messengers are our hormones. In a feed back system between the brain and the immature eggs, or primoridial follicles, an egg is selected for ovulation and the lining of the uterus grows and matures. After ovulation, the hormone levels gradually drop and then the uterine lining sloughs off. This is the menstrual period.

In a very young girl, just beginning her periods, her ovaries are loaded up with immature eggs but her brain is still immature. This is why early periods are irregular. At the end of the reproductive years, the primoridal follicles are greatly reduced in number, and the subsequent production of the hormone messengers is less regular. This can result in menstrual cycle changes. Often periods get closer together and flow may be heavier. This may happen as early as the early 40's. Later periods can be skipped. Half of women will stop having periods by age 51 years. Almost all women will stop by age 55 years.

But, irregular periods can be caused by many different issues and you should contact your health care provider to investigate what is going on with you.

Irregular periods can be a sign of menopause, but not always. Lots of things can affect your period: stress, weight changes, thyroid disease, even pregnancy. Your cycle can become erratic, but get itself back on track. If you’ve stopped having your period for a year, though, you are menopausal. Of course, other symptoms of estrogen lack may also signal the start of menopause.

Irregular periods do not necessarily mean menopause. Your doctor can determine menopause and also check for unexpected pregnancy. Technically, menopause doesn't occur until a woman has gone a full 12 months without a monthly period. Some symptoms can occur before menopause, though, as estrogen levels begin to change.

That’s tricky. Because irregular periods are the primary marker for perimenopausal transition leading into menopause, they can be viewed as the prelude or introductory period of menopause. However, other conditions can cause irregular periods and this should be discussed with your doctor prior to making that assumption.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.