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How Do I Know If My Irregular Periods Are a Sign of Menopause?

For many women, distinguishing the difference between irregular periods caused by menopause and other things, such as pregnancy, can be confusing. This is because menopause symptoms often overlap with the symptoms of other conditions. How can you determine what's behind your irregular periods? Read on to find out.

What Causes Irregular Periods?

Irregular periods occur as the result of hormone imbalance in the body. Two important female hormones — progesterone and estrogen — are responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle and preparing the uterus for a fertilized egg each month. Irregular periods caused by menopause happen because as a woman ages, her body begins to slow production of these hormones to prepare for infertility.

In premenopausal women, irregular periods may be caused by a myriad of other factors, such as stress, poor diet, over-exercise, health conditions, birth control usage, or pregnancy. Consider the following strategies to determine what's behind your irregular periods.

1

Check the label on your birth control or prescription medication

Side effects of prescription medication

While birth control methods like the pill help to regulate periods, others may cause irregular periods. Prescription medications can also create hormonal imbalances that lead to irregular periods. It is always best to double check the materials accompanying your birth control or medication to be sure they're not causing your menstrual irregularities.

2

Take a pregnancy test

Pregnancy test

Women who are sexually active and may become pregnant should take a pregnancy test if they miss a period. While it is uncommon for women on the cusp of the menopause transition to become pregnant, it is not unheard of.

3

Note the presence or absence of other menopause symptoms

Other menopause symptoms

While irregular periods are one of the first signs of menopause, they are often accompanied by other symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and vaginal dryness. If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, you may be going through menopause.

4

Get your hormone levels tested

Hormone level tests

A healthcare professional can administer a blood, saliva, or urine test that measures hormone levels. This will help you determine if you have entered the menopause transition. These tests typically measure levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).

5

Track your periods

Track your periods

While the symptoms of perimenopause — such as irregular periods — can last several years, a woman reaches menopause when she has not had her period in 12 consecutive months. Before this happens, women typically experience spaced-out periods with heavier bleeding.

Recommendation

It is always best to consult with a healthcare professional if you are unsure about what is causing your irregular periods. He or she will be able to help you identify the factors behind them and make sure there is no underlying condition present.

Long Menstrual Cycles

Long menstrual cycles can be frustrating, and are commonly experienced by women going through menopause. Click here to learn more.

Constant Irregular Periods

Irregular periods are one of the earliest signs that a woman is approaching menopause. They can be caused by a range of medical conditions.

Irregular Periods and Birth Control Pills

The hormonal changes brought by birth control pills can sometimes cause irregular periods. Click here to learn more about managing irregular periods.

Sources:
  • Love, S. (2003). Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press.
  • Office on Women's Health. (2014). Menstruation and the menstrual cycle fact sheet. Retrieved February 23, 2016, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/menstruation.html