For years you experienced a regular period cycle that gave you a fairly predictable sense of what you were to experience every month. However, once you turn 40 your entire menstrual cycle is subject to change, stemming from fluctuations in hormones that can alter your period and its symptoms drastically.
Women in their early 40s and sometimes mid 30s begin their perimenopause phase, which causes a variety of symptoms and changes to their menstrual cycles. Your period can be a hassle to deal with, especially with unexpected changes underway. Knowing what to expect when you reach that critical age can help ease the worry and concern over irregular and erratic period behavior.
Why does your menstrual cycle change at 40?
As you age, hormone levels of progesterone and estrogen begin to diminish. Progesterone and estrogen are responsible for controlling the menstrual cycle, and when women hit 40 these levels drop dramatically, altering their periods. These diminishing hormone levels lead to erratic symptoms that can be defined as perimenopause, and then later menopause. Women may experience many changes after 40 that may occur gradually and can manifest into perimenopause.
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the transition period in which the normal menstrual cycle begins to change in its frequency and duration. This period lasts until menopause, the final stage in which you reach after 12 months of no existing period cycle. Your body will begin to change at this time, with hormone levels diminishing and menstrual periods altering. During this time, most women become less likely to get pregnant, and may experience irregular and sometimes heavy menstrual periods.
Changes that occur during perimenopause may be a gradual onset of symptoms and can often mimic PMS, but are a culprit of the fluctuation of progesterone and estrogen levels as the ovaries begin to prepare for menopause.
Perimenopause occurs as a transitional phase that can begin in a woman’s 30s and 40s, and typically lasts from two to ten years before menopause occurs. Indicators of perimenopause often include symptoms such as changes in the period cycle, vaginal dryness, decreased bone density, breast tenderness, and skin changes. Hot flashes, urine leakage, severe premenstrual syndrome, and urinary urgency are also signs of perimenopause.
These are all the body’s responses to the decreased levels of hormones happening. During perimenopause, it is also common for emotional changes to occur. Mood swings, fatigue, and sleep disturbances can all be caused by the shift in hormones causing an array of unpredictable behaviors. Some women also experience a decrease in their sex drive during this phase as well.
After 40, your period cycle is likely to change no matter what. You may experience more severe cramps during your monthly period. Heavier periods are also common once women reach this age, as well as irregularities in the monthly period cycle. Irregular bleeding that occurs before or after the period is called intermenstrual bleeding. This is another common change that women in their 40s experience.
The flow could be lighter or heavier, and the length between periods may lengthen or shorten. Sometimes women will experience the passing of blood clots over the course of several days. Menstrual cycle changes are common, although if these changes become severe or unbearable, you should consult with your healthcare professional over possible treatment methods, as there are a number of hormonal therapies available that can help with symptoms.
Although fertility declines in your 40s, you are still able to get pregnant. Even women who have irregular menstrual cycles and are experiencing perimenopause can still become impregnated, so it’s important to keep that in mind.
What is Menopause?
Menopause occurs in women after the perimenopause stage. It is the absence of a menstrual period for 12 straight months in which the ovaries begin to cease functioning. The average age of menopause is 51, although it can occur in your 40s and can even begin as early as your 30s. Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. Symptoms of these may also mimic some of the perimenopause symptoms, and can also be abnormal vaginal bleeding, hot flashes, vaginal and urinary symptoms, and unexpected mood changes. As a result of menopause, women will stop getting their monthly period and will become unable to get pregnant.
While menstrual changes are common for women in their 40s, there are other changes that may be the result of another condition. Women in their 40s should look out for heavy blood clots, longer stretches of periods, spotting between periods, spotting after sex, and other abnormal bleeding as these could be a sign of a more serious problem.