Women are born with about a million eggs in each ovary. By puberty about 300,000 eggs remain, and by menopause there are no active eggs left.
On average, a woman will have 400-500 periods in her lifetime. From about 35-40 years of age, the number of eggs left in your ovaries decreases more quickly and you ovulate (release an egg from the ovary) less regularly until your periods stop. Menopause means the end of ovulation.The transition or lead-up to menopause (running out of eggs)
- Lasts an average of 4-6 years, but can be as short as one year or as long as 10 years
- Periods start to ‘wind down’ and become less regular
- Periods can be lighter or heavier, last for longer or finish earlier than they used to
- Menopausal symptoms often gradually begin during this time.
Many women talk of peri-menopause as a time of hormonal ‘chaos’. Hormone levels can swing erratically from high to low. This is because the ovaries are beginning to run out of eggs, which affects hormone levels. The pituitary gland produces higher levels of signalling hormones – follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH) – to the ovaries in an effort to keep the ovaries producing eggs and oestrogen levels normal. During this time, ovulation (the release of an egg) might occur twice in a cycle, the second time during a period. This can lead to very high hormone levels. In other cycles, ovulation might not occur at all.
There is no test to diagnose peri-menopause. It is best identified by considering:
- Changes in the nature of your periods, such as:
- how frequent they are now and if that has changed
- how long they last and if that has changed
- how light or heavy they are and if that has changed
Because of the hormonal swings during peri-menopause, this is the time many women experience the most symptoms. Symptoms of peri-menopause – are you experiencing:
mood changes (low or swinging mood/irritability/anxiety)?
decreased ability to do your normal activities/inability to cope?
Talk to your doctor if you experience:
- increasingly heavy periods
- long periods of more than 8 days
- periods that come less than 3 weeks apart
- periods that come more than 2-3 months apart
- painful periods causing you to stay home
- bleeding between or after periods, or after sex
- any of the above listed peri-menopausal symptoms.