Let’s start with DEFINITIONS
Don’t be surprised when other women and professionals have varied definitions of perimenopause and menopause. It is up to you to get informed and be your own best health advocate.
Language is so important in helping to clear the confusing and conflicting messages around menopause. Menopause is linked to many myths, misconceptions and for a good portion of the population, it is misunderstood.
For definitions, I usually refer to the life phase information as created by Dr. Jerrilyn Prior at www.CEMCOR.org (with a slight modification–see #4):
- Adolescence: 1st period up to age 20
- Premenopause: Age 20 up to the shifts associated with perimenopause
- Perimenopause: The transition from reproductive years to menopause. Can begin as early as 35 and as late as 59. Can last 5-15 years leading up to menopause.
- Menopause: Menopause is one day. It is the 12 month anniversary of your very last period. Dr. Prior includes Post-Menopause in this category. In telling my own story, I like to separate it into a 5th:
- Post Menopause: Everything after your anniversary party.
It might help to draw your own timeline using these definitions. For example: I got my first period at 12, noticed the first sign of hormonal shift (boobs hurt, brain fog, period started to change) at 39, had my last period at 48 (after one 10 month “pause-and-restart”), reached (celebrated!) menopause at 49 (earlier this year). Now, I am in the post-menopause phase of my life.
Here are a couple of examples where confusion pops up:
PREmenopause is interchanged with PERImenopause:
I find the term PREmenopause is not really used very often–except when someone says it but really means PERImenopause. Some books also refer to this stage as the REPRODUCTIVE years, but that gets confusing because you are also (still) fertile during PERIMENOPAUSE. Watch for this and seek clarification. Most of what we talk about at MenopauseChicks.com is indeed PERIMENOPAUSE. In fact, I should have called it PerimenopauseChicks! If your mother or grandmother (or doctor)….says “going through menopause”, they most likely mean “going through PERImenopause,” as that is when many of the hormonal shifts begin to happen. The term perimenopause was only coined in the 1990s. Yes, the term is only 25 years old–which helps to explain some of the confusion and lack of research. But we are working to change this!
MENOpause is interchanged for PERImenopause:
This is common. If only I had a dollar for every story I’ve heard from women who have been told by their doctors that as long as they still have a period, it can’t be menopause. This is outdated thinking. You see, many doctors were trained that women reach menopause around age 50. Many doctors were not trained in perimenopause transition.
Now, if you think about it….that’s ok.
Because doctors should not be the ONLY resource of information for women on these life phases. Why? Because perimenopause and menopause are not ailments or diseases! They are natural life phases. Just like puberty.
Another way to frame our thinking and understanding is to insert the word “puberty” into a sentence where menopause or perimenopause used to be. For example: Someone might say: “I didn’t go through menopause.” But you would never say “I didn’t go through puberty.” Therefore, a good way to clarify what that person means is to ask: “Do you mean ‘You didn’t suffer through menopause?'”
Others might also refer to perimenopause & menopause with words such as symptoms, cure, diagnosis and treatment. Imagine using those words when talking about puberty. It would sound weird, wouldn’t it?
I try hard to use the word EXPERIENCES rather than SYMPTOMS. And when talking about available support i.e. treatments, it helps to add clarity by saying: “experiences associated with perimenopause.”
And finally, the “H” word: HORMONES:
Prior to starting MenopauseChicks.com, I admit that the word hormones felt like a swear word because whenever it landed on my ears, it usually had a negative connotation attached to it.
Think: eye-rolling teenager = “oh, she’s hormonal” or “the hormones are raging!” There is also “hormone imbalance” and “my hormones are out of whack!” Even two of my favourite experts wrote books called The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Diet…which the titles (not the book content) paint hormones in a less-than-desirable light.
It’s time to flip the conversation and talk about hormones in a positive context! Hormones are our friends. They deserve our attention and love because they have important jobs to do. Here is a brief snapshot (from Dr Sara Gottfried):
Cortisol gives us focus, thyroid keeps us energized, comfortably warm and at a manageable weight. Estrogen has 300+ jobs in a woman’s body including regulating menstruation and keeping us juicy from our joints to our vaginas. Progesterone regulates the uterine lining, emotions and sleep. Testosterone is responsible for vitality and self-confidence. Leptin controls our hunger. Insulin regulates how we use fuel from food. Vitamin D is considered a vitamin and a hormone and has a number of roles including promoting bone strength, fighting depression and heart disease.
Thanks for reading. If you are interested in continuing this conversation, hop over to our PRIVATE online community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/MenopauseChicks/requests/
Photo credit: www.cemcor.org