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Perimenopause or Menopause? How to Tell the Difference

Menopause is diagnosed when you’ve gone 12 consecutive months without a period, signaling the end of your menstrual cycles, ovulation, and fertility. 

In the months and years leading up to menopause, you experience symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats that indicate menopause is coming. This time is known as perimenopause.

Knowing when perimenopause ends and menopause begins can be tricky. At Capital Women’s Care, the board-certified gynecologists help you manage this hormonal transition to ease any unpleasant symptoms and keep your hormones in check.

Here’s what these experts say can help you distinguish between perimenopause and menopause.

Perimenopause: Two phases

Perimenopause isn’t just one noticeable event. It usually develops gradually, and you may notice first that your periods start to become a little unpredictable. 

In this early stage, your periods may be a week or so late, and they’re just not as predictable as they once were. If you’ve always had an irregular cycle, you may not even notice this perimenopausal stage.

Late-stage perimenopause is characterized by periods that are 60 days or further apart. Depending on your body, this may come soon after the first stage of perimenopause or not for years.

The later stage of perimenopause is also when your hormones start to fall out of balance, leading to symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and sleep disturbances.

So all those symptoms that we call “menopausal” are actually perimenopausal.

Menopause: A retrospective look

You can’t be sure you’re in menopause until 12 months have passed without a period. It’s a good idea when you’re starting to move toward menopause to track your cycle — if you don’t already. 

When you look back and see that you’ve gone a year without a period at all — no spotting, no breakthrough bleeding — you can be certain you’re in menopause. 

Conversely, even if you go 11 months without a period, but your period arrives on month 12, you’re still in perimenopause. 

Perimenopause: Chance for pregnancy

It’s important to know for sure whether you’re in perimenopause or menopause for several reasons. One of them is to know whether you still need to use birth control protection.

Even though your periods are erratic during perimenopause, you can still get pregnant. Perhaps not with the ease you did in your youth, but the chance is there. If you don’t want to add to your family, use a reliable form of contraception

Keep in mind, even after menopause, it’s a good idea to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases if you’re not in a mutually monogamous relationship.

Menopause: New health concerns

The hormonal changes that occur with menopause put you at a greater risk of certain health conditions. These include osteoporosis, heart disease, and urinary incontinence.

At Capital Women’s Care, we manage your post-menopausal health and help you navigate these issues. We offer bone density evaluations and treatments for osteoporosis. We can also help you stick with a healthy diet and physical activity schedule to discourage the development of heart disease.

If you should have trouble with urinary incontinence, we offer bladder training, lifestyle changes, and minimally invasive interventions to resolve symptoms.

Capital Women’s Care provides gynecological support for every stage of a woman’s life. 

If you have questions as you progress through perimenopause and menopause, our practitioners in Silver Spring and Laurel, Maryland, are ready to help. Call today to set up a consultation, or request an appointment with our online booking tool. 

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