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What Signals the Onset of Menopause?

By Florence J. Tipton
Updated May 17, 2024
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The onset of menopause — which is part of the aging process — may occur after perimenopause, the time in a woman’s life that her body begins to make subtle changes related to female reproduction. A woman may begin to have episodes of irregular bleeding with frequent or delayed menstrual cycles. Imbalanced hormones may cause a woman to experience hot flashes, even during normal temperatures. Loss of bone density also signals the onset of menopause as estrogen levels begin to decrease. Mood swings may also occur as a result of menopause.

Perimenopause is considered the transitional period when a woman’s body begins adjusting to the infertility phase due to hormonal changes. In a sense, the body “pauses” as it makes changes that ultimately prevent a woman from becoming pregnant. During this phase, a woman’s menstrual cycle may become irregular. As perimenopause progresses, a woman may also have hot flashes, suffer less bone density, or go through mood swings. After a woman’s menstrual cycle stops for 12 months, perimenopause ends and menopause begins.

Irregular bleeding is one of the first symptoms connected to menopause in most women. As the onset of menopause begins to occur, ovulation — the release of eggs from the ovaries — is disrupted and leads to unpredictable menstrual cycles. These changes may involve abnormal periods that are either excessive or light and inconsistent between the day the cycle starts and ends.

Another classic symptom associated with the onset of menopause is hot flashes as hormones fluctuate. Many women have reported feeling a sudden flush of heat in various parts of the body. In some women, this sensation is localized in the chest or face, and may last for seconds or minutes.

Bone loss may accelerate during perimenopause, exceeding the normal rate associated with aging. While pain is generally not associated with the loss of bone density, a woman may develop osteoporosis, which is a weakening of the skeletal structure that makes the bones fragile. As a result, the chances for bone fractures and injury can be a painful experience.

For some women, the changes in emotions and thinking patterns can also be a telltale sign that menopause is beginning. These mood swings might also be the result of hormonal changes. It is not uncommon for a woman to become depressed or irritable as her body makes internal adjustments to a different phase.

The symptoms related to menopause may vary based on individual experiences and may not affect all women equally. There are general symptoms which may signal the onset of menopause such as weight gain or an increase in facial hair. It is also possible that a woman will not display any signs that she is about to go through menopause.

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