The following list gives you the lowdown on the terms associated with menopause:
Menopause: Menopause actually means the end of menstruation. During the years leading up to menopause (called perimenopause), your periods may be so erratic that you’re never sure which period will be the last one, but you aren’t officially menopausal until you haven’t had a period for a year.
Perimenopause: The term perimenopause refers to the time leading up to the cessation of menstruation, when estrogen production is slowing down. A lot of the symptoms that folks usually label as menopausal (hot flashes, mood swings, sleeplessness, and so on) actually take place during the perimenopausal years. We’re sticklers in this book about using the term perimenopause rather than menopause to describe this early phase because you’re still having periods. We also use perimenopause because we want to note the physiological and emotional changes you experience prior to the end of your periods and distinguish them from the changes that happen after your body has adjusted to lower levels of estrogen.
Postmenopause: Technically, the time after your last period is called postmenopause, but this word has never really caught on. So, in keeping with common usage, we most often use the term menopause to refer to the actual event and the years after menopause and use postmenopause only when it helps clarify things. When we talk about menopausal women, we’re talking about women who have stopped having periods — whether they’re 55 or 75.
The years leading up to and following menopause mark a pretty major transformation in a woman’s life. As you make your way through this period of your life, you’ll want to know where you’re at within the whole grand scope of the change and what’s going on inside you.