Are Perimenopause and Menopause the Same Thing?
Hold That Pause
Hold That Pause

Are Perimenopause and Menopause the Same Thing?

A stethoscope with a bullseye on it. Sometimes I feel like going on a one-woman crusade to change the language we use when we talk about hormone imbalance – i.e., perimenopause versus menopause. I will admit, I too am guilty of using these two words interchangeably. But the truth is, they are two entirely different experiences, and frankly, should not be discussed as if they are the same thing.

Yet, the practice persists.

I have written one post here at Healthline on this topic, and I reference the difference between perimenopause and menopause constantly in my writing. But it’s not enough, in my opinion. With all of the confusion (still) that surrounds perimenopause, what it is, and how it affects women, I think it’s extremely important that we draw a hard line between the two, clearly define them, and call them exactly what they are.

What is Perimenopause?

If you are a lover of language (as I am), then the fact that the word “perimenopause” includes a prefix ought to be a clue they are two entirely different words with two entirely different meanings. No one confuses “misunderstanding” with “understanding.” So let’s not confuse perimenopause with menopause.

The prefix “peri” is of Greek origin and means “about” or “around.”  A great example in usage is the word “perimeter,” defined as “the path that surrounds.” Perimenopause is definitely a journey down the path of hormone imbalance on the way to menopause. It is quite literally, “the time around menopause.”

The hormone landscape for women during perimenopause is also quite different from the hormone landscape of menopause. For many women (approximately 80%), perimenopause is a very tumultuous and turbulent time, due to fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels, which produces the symptoms of perimenopause.

See this post for a complete list of the 35 symptoms associated with perimenopause.

So Then What Exactly is Menopause?

So if perimenopause is not menopause, and vice versa, then exactly what is menopause?

Simply put, menopause is reached when a woman does not have a menstrual cycle for twelve consecutive months. Until then, she is considered to be going through peri- menopause. Once a woman reaches actual menopause, her ovaries are no longer producing enough progesterone and estrogen to facilitate fertility and ovulation, and hence, menstrual cycles cease. 

While the tumult and turbulence of perimenopause is not a part of menopause, the lower levels of these life sustaining hormones can still present certain health challenges for women. Brain fog, short-term memory loss, depression, generalized aches and pains, and lower bone density are all associated with low estrogen levels in menopause. For some women (myself included), hormone therapy helps to address some of these issues.  

You Say Tuh-MAY-to, I Say Tuh-MAH-to

Some of you may think I’m splitting semantic hairs over the use of the words perimenopause versus menopause. When really, what difference does it make when we are all talking about the same thing anyway, right?

Well, no. Because we’re not. Women have a tough enough time as it is being heard trying to get the care they want during perimenopause and menopause. So perhaps if we begin by accurately defining these two very different health experiences, we can make some inroads in getting the type of healthcare women need and want.

It’s really simple, people. You don’t treat cancer by calling it a cold.

Magnolia Miller is a certified healthcare consumer advocate in women's health and a women's freelance health writer and blogger at The Perimenopause Blog. 

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Tags: Perimenopause , Symptoms of Menopause

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About the Author

Magnolia is dedicated to empowering women to take responsibility for their own health.