Often, since you’re not expecting menopause at such an early age, you won’t notice that your periods are getting irregular. Sure, you’re a few days late, or your flow is lighter or heavier, but since you’re not thinking menopause, you can easily overlook these signals.
Many women learn that they’re going through premature menopause when they keep trying to get pregnant and can’t — and finally go to a doctor to see what’s wrong.
Or you may miss a period, immediately assume that you could be pregnant, take the test and learn that you’re not — and wonder why you skipped that period in the first place.
On the other hand, you may be like some women who notice that their periods are changing, but have no idea why this is suddenly happening, and assume there’s something very wrong with them.
Volatile Periods & Premature Menopause
A change in your menstrual cycle is one of the first signals that you’re going through menopause, a signal that about 80 percent of all women experience. On average most women have an approximately 28-day menstrual cycle and usually can count on having their period for about five days (1). But when you start going through menopause, you can’t count on your cycle running normally anymore.
You may find that your periods arrive more frequently, perhaps every 25 days instead of every 28, or they may arrive later than the time to which you are typically accustomed. You may experience very light bleeding that lasts only a few days; then the next month have a very heavy period.
Your period may have a shorter duration, or last for what feels like an eternity. Irregular and unpredictable patterns may emerge — like skipping a month, before returning to normal for several months, then skipping multiple consecutive periods. In fact, when you first begin to enter menopause, often the only consistent thing about your monthly menstrual cycle is its inconsistency.
This inconsistency mirrors the fluctuation of hormones in your body. In the initial phases of premature menopause, your hormones are erratic, and your periods are reacting to this instability. The nature of the irregularity you experience is usually a useful clue as to what is happening in your reproductive system:
Very possibly, you will experience all of the above in the initial stages of premature menopause. Your cycle will fluctuate from one month to the next — one month light, another month relatively normal, and another month heavy.
Then, as your ovaries continue declining as your eggs dwindle, your menstrual cycle starts to wind down. As time passes, even surging levels of FSH aren’t sufficient to trigger enough estrogen for your eggs to properly mature or for the uterine lining to thicken.
As you get closer to menopause, the menstrual cycle typically lengthens. Periods also tend to come less often, with more time between each menstruation. After some time you may begin skipping periods altogether. And eventually, in the biggest change to your cycle, you will cease having periods completely.
Remember: you should bear in mind that certain irregularities in your menstrual cycle are not necessarily related to early menopause, but could instead be a sign of an altogether different abnormality, including cancer, polyps, nonmalignant tumors, or fibroids (which are very common when women first begin going through menopause).
If you’ve had a checkup, however, and all other possibilities have been ruled out, then you may have to adjust to the reality of menopause-related irregular periods for some time.
How To Cope:
It’s one thing to read about these changes with your period and another to experience them. One of the most annoying things about having irregular periods is the feeling of being out of control. In the past, you probably could count on your period coming at a set time.
Now you have no idea when it will come — or even if it will arrive at all. And when it does come, you may be flooding or barely spotting. The bad news is that there really isn’t much you can do to get your irregular periods back to normal. But you can get at least a little control back:
Since you may be dealing with this for a few years, it’s a good idea to keep tampons or sanitary napkins with you at all times, just in case your period sneaks up on you out of nowhere. This is especially important if you’ve skipped periods because you can’t be sure when your cycle will suddenly start up again.
Start keeping a menstrual calendar when you notice your cycle is getting irregular. It sounds annoying, but it isn’t as difficult as you may think, and there are even apps to help. Alternatively, you can jot down the basic information — when your period comes, how heavy or light it is, any unusual cramping, and the like — on a calendar, date book, or a plain piece of paper.
Not only will this allow you to see if there are any trends in your cycle (time between periods is getting longer, periods are shorter in duration, and so on), but also it’s very helpful when you see your doctor. It’s difficult to remember the specifics about the past for months of periods when you’re sitting in the doctor’s office. Having a calendar enables to and your doctor to better assess your condition. It may also alert your doctor that you’re experiencing problems other than premature menopause.
Consult Your Doctor
Finally, if you’re frequently having very heavy bleeding, you may want to talk to your doctor about some form of treatment. Taking progesterone for the second half of your cycle often helps reduce bleeding and regularize your period.
It can also help with the bloated PMS feeling you may be getting more strongly than in the past and will prevent your endometrium (uterine lining) from building up excessively. But taking progesterone isn’t risk-free, and it doesn’t work well for everyone, so be sure to discuss all possible side effects with your doctor.
Your doctor may also prescribe a low-dose birth control pill to regularize your periods — but again, be aware of any potential side effects.