December 4, 2022

Do My Period Changes Mean Perimenopause?

Before menopause, there’s an amount of time when your menstrual cycles are unpredictable

Mid 40's woman sitting on back porch.

You’ve probably heard of menopause. But are you familiar with perimenopause?

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

If not, here’s a quick primer. While menopause is defined as 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, perimenopause is the five to seven years before your period stops completely.

During this time, you may experience changes in your menstrual cycle due to your ovaries producing less hormones. These irregularities can include:

  • Longer cycles.
  • Shorter cycles.
  • Missed periods.
  • Spotting between periods.
  • Heaving bleeding.

It’s a complicated process that differs from person to person. And it can be challenging to keep track of when you may have your period, leaving you frustrated and concerned about the changes your body is going through.

Ob/Gyn Sharon Sutherland, MD, explains how your period will change during perimenopause and what other symptoms you may experience.

Can you be perimenopausal and still have periods?

Yes. Typically, the first sign that you’re in perimenopause is irregular periods.

Most people enter perimenopause in their mid-40s. But some people may begin perimenopause in their mid-30s or as late as their mid-50s.

Because the levels of estrogen and progesterone go up and down in your body during perimenopause, when you have your menstrual cycle will vary.

Perimenopause is the amount of time when your menstrual cycles are unpredictable. And it’s a natural progression that signals that your body is preparing to enter menopause.

On average, most people will be in perimenopause for about four years — although for some, it can only last a few months. Once you’ve gone 12 straight months without having a period, you’re in menopause.

Advertisement

What are periods like during perimenopause?

The short answer? All over the place. Your menstrual cycle may be longer one month and then shorter the next.

“The root cause is the fact that ovulation becomes less reliable,” says Dr. Sutherland. “You’re not ovulating routinely every month, and that’s when your period starts to change.”

You may even miss a period for a month or two and then have it monthly for a while. And the flow of your periods can change between being normal, lighter and heavier.

How long are menstrual cycles during perimenopause?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. The length of each period can vary. A typical menstrual cycle lasts three to five days. Maybe you have a short period (two days or fewer) or your periods become longer (eight days or more).

And when you have a period will change as well.

“The timing between the beginning of one period to the beginning of the next will likely vary,” says Dr. Sutherland. “Some people have double periods every month, and then they just suddenly stop. But for most people, the periods will start to space out. So, maybe they’ll have a period every two to three months, maybe eventually it’ll go to six months.”

It’s possible that you can go from having 12 periods a year to eight periods a year, then four periods a year. Over time, you will just get them less frequently.

Are PMS symptoms more severe during perimenopause?

They can be, says Dr. Sutherland.

Due to hormonal fluctuations, you may experience symptoms like you did during your teenage years. And you may also start experiencing some menopause-like symptoms.

Advertisement

Symptoms can include:

But in some cases, symptoms may be absent.

“If you aren’t ovulating, sometimes, you may not have the typical PMS symptoms like breast tenderness or cramping,” notes Dr. Sutherland. “So, you may not necessarily have warning that your period is coming, you just suddenly start to bleed.”

But there are things you can do at home to help reduce symptoms related to perimenopause. For example:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Exercise, including weight-bearing activities like walking, hiking and strength training.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Improve your sleep hygiene.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Practice stress management techniques like meditation and deep breathing.

When to see a doctor

While changes to your menstrual cycle are to be expected when you’re in perimenopause, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to a doctor about any symptoms that may be concerning.

Other conditions, like uterine fibroids, and pregnancy and birth control pills can cause abnormal bleeding. It’s time to see your doctor if you notice the following:

  • A heavy blood flow.
  • Blood clots.
  • Spotting right after your period.
  • Spotting after sex.
  • Periods that happen close together.

“If any symptoms are interfering with your life, it’s important that you have a conversation with your doctor,” states Dr. Sutherland.

Related Articles

doctor speaking with middle-age woman
February 21, 2024
Does Your Health Determine Menopause Age?

Reaching menopause very early raises your risk of certain health conditions

Male with eyes closed sitting hunched over, pinching area between their eyes
January 29, 2024
Headache and Fatigue: 11 Possible Causes That Can Trigger Both

Many factors, like dehydration, a cold or even your medication, can result in these common symptoms

woman in discomfort lying down on couch
November 5, 2023
What Is ‘Period Flu’? How Your Period Can Cause Flu-Like Symptoms

Hormonal changes are the likely culprits behind the aches and fatigue before your period

People in bed sleeping at night, caught up in their sheets.
October 22, 2023
Low Libido? Ways for Women To Increase Their Sex Drive

Medications and therapy can help get your groove back

female getting a shot in arm
July 26, 2023
Will a COVID-19 Vaccine Throw Your Period Off?

Irregularities in cycle length and flow aren’t a cause for concern

woman with hormonal acne along cheek and jaw
July 25, 2023
The Breakout Breakdown: Why You Get Acne Around Your Period

Hormone fluctuations impact oil and sebum production, creating painful, tender pimples

female at gynecologists' appointment
June 28, 2023
Can You Go to Your Gynecologist Appointment When You’re on Your Period?

Typically, you can keep your appointment, let your gynecologist know and let your worries go

Person holding tampon by string.
May 9, 2023
What’s the Best Tampon Size To Use?

It depends on your menstrual flow, and a little trial and error

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture

Ad