Period problems during menopause
Problems with periods are very common around the time of the menopause. Also known as the 'change of life', this is when the ovaries gradually slow down their function and your periods finally end permanently. The average age of menopause for women in the UK is 51, but it can happen as young as 40 and as old as 60.
Problems like heavy or prolonged periods often start in the run up to menopause as your body transitions due to hormonal changes. This stage is known as perimenopause. Period problems associated with menopause can also happen prematurely as a result of surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
What to expect
Menopause is a normal, natural event rather than a condition or disease but, in some cases, it can have a major impact on your wellbeing. Everyone is different, so some women reach the end of menstruation with little or no period problems, while others have moderate to severe disruption of their menstrual cycle. In some cases, changes in the body that lead to the menopause can start as early as 10 years before a final period.
Symptoms of period problems
On average, a menstrual cycle lasts about 28 days, but anywhere between 21 and 35 days may be considered normal. One of the first signs of changing hormone levels is a change in the pattern of your monthly period. As your body transitions to menopause you may experience a range of symptoms that include changes in:
- Regularity: time between monthly periods may get longer or shorter
- Flow: periods may become lighter or heavier
- Consistency: blood may contain clots
- Colour: blood may range from bright red to dark brown.
When to seek medical help
The above changes are normal, but seek medical advice if:
- Your periods come very close together or are constant
- You have heavy bleeding (menorrhagia)
- Your periods last more than a week
- You experience severe pain (dysmenorrhoea)
Menstrual cramps, whatever the cause, can be treated, so it's important to get checked by a doctor.
Heavy bleeding diagnosis
If you are bleeding heavily you may have to use a large number of tampons or sanitary pads, or use both tampons and pads at the same time. You may experience flooding, when bleeding is so heavy it soaks through your clothes or onto bed sheets. There may also be clots in the blood. Seek medical advice if you have these signs of excessive or heavy bleeding.
How common are period problems during menopause?
Research has established it is common for women to experience spotting (breakthrough bleeding between periods), as well as heavy bleeding during menopause. A US study monitored 1,320 women aged 46 for a further 10 years. They recorded their bleeding patterns in diaries. The study found women were more likely to have long periods, spotting and heavy bleeding the closer they got to the menopause. Overall findings suggest it’s common for periods to become irregular and less predictable during the menopause.