It’s common for women to start experiencing changes in their menstrual cycles as they approach their 40s. The years leading up to menopause are called perimenopause, and this stage brings unpredictable menstrual cycles that can include longer or shorter periods, skipped periods, and varying levels of flow. So can periods actually stop at age 40, or is it more complicated than that? Here’s a closer look at what typically happens to periods in the 40s.
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause refers to the transitional stage before menopause when a woman’s ovaries gradually produce less estrogen. It usually begins in the late 30s or early 40s, but can start as early as the mid-30s. During this stage, rising and falling estrogen levels cause menstrual cycle irregularities that can include:
- Shorter or longer cycles
- Heavier or lighter flow
- More or less cramps/PMS
- Spotting between periods
- Skipped periods
These unpredictable cycles are a hallmark of perimenopause. The duration of perimenopause varies from woman to woman, lasting anywhere from a few months to several years. Perimenopause ends when a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a period, at which point she has reached menopause.
What typically happens to periods in your 40s?
During the 40s, most women will experience some type of menstrual cycle change as they transition into perimenopause. Here’s what typically happens:
– Cycles remain regular but periods may be heavier or lighter. Premenstrual symptoms may increase.
– More menstrual irregularities emerge. Cycles length varies more. Periods may be heavier or lighter. Spotting between periods is common.
– Periods become more erratic. Some are skipped entirely. Interval between cycles lengthens. Flow may be lighter.
While these are common patterns, it’s important to remember that symptoms can vary dramatically between individuals. Some women notice very few period changes in their 40s, while others experience extreme irregularities. Genetics, lifestyle factors like smoking, and medical conditions can all impact the timing and severity of perimenopause symptoms.
Can periods fully stop at age 40?
It’s rare, but some women can reach full menopause by age 40. Only 5% of women undergo menopause before age 45, which is considered premature or early menopause. Some reasons this can occur include:
- Medical procedures – Hysterectomy or ovary removal
- Cancer treatments – Chemotherapy or radiation
- Autoimmune disorders – Rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease
- Genetics – Family history of early menopause
- Lifestyle factors – Smoking
- Primary ovarian insufficiency – ovaries fail before 40
For women not dealing with an underlying medical condition, periods will typically persist in some form through most of the 40s, although the cycles will usually become more erratic. It’s uncommon for periods to suddenly stop at 40 without any perimenopausal transition period.
Changes to expect each year in your 40s
While each woman’s experience is unique, below are some general changes that can be expected by age:
– Irregular cycle length may start, varying by 7+ days
– Slight changes in period flow possible
– More variation in cycle length, between 30-45 days
– Heavier periods in some women
– Increased PMS symptoms
– Cycle length varies significantly, between 20-60 days
– Light spotting between periods occurs
– Noticeably heavier or lighter periods
– First missed/skipped periods
– Periods becoming lighter overall
– Moderate to severe hot flashes possible
– Periods skipped more frequently
– 60+ days between cycles common
– Lighter flow when periods occur
– More symptoms like night sweats, sleep disturbances
– Fewer annual periods – 9 or less per year
– Variable cycle length of 1-6 months is common
– Periods often very light when occur
– Irregular spotting persists between cycles
– Long stretches of amenorrhea (no periods)
– Periods missed more months than occurred
– When occur, very light flow of 2-3 days
– Infrequent periods every 2-3+ months
– Flow may just be spotting when occur
– Cycles continue to be irregular
– Many months with no periods
– Periods skipped more often than experienced
– Approaching 12 months with no periods
– Amenorrhea likely, no periods for many months
– Possible climacteric final period marking end of fertility
– Perimenopause transition winding down
As you can see, while cycle changes progressively intensify through the 40s, it’s quite rare for periods to definitively stop at 40. The menstrual irregularity of perimenopause more often lasts for multiple years.
When should you see a doctor?
It’s a good idea to see your doctor if:
- Periods suddenly stop before age 45
- Bleeding is excessively heavy or prolonged
- Spotting occurs between periods
- Pelvic pain accompanies bleeding
- Symptoms interrupt your quality of life
While perimenopausal changes are normal, serious conditions like endometrial cancer, uterine fibroids, or polyps can also cause abnormal bleeding. So it’s important to rule those out.
Your doctor can evaluate symptoms and order tests to identify any underlying cause. They can also provide guidance on managing difficult perimenopause symptoms.
Managing changing cycles in your 40s
Here are some tips for dealing with period changes in your 40s:
- Track cycles – Use a calendar or app to monitor patterns.
- Report symptoms – Keep your doctor updated on any concerning changes.
- Practice relaxation techniques – Try yoga, meditation, deep breathing to ease anxiety about changing cycles.
- Exercise regularly – Physical activity helps manage fluctuating hormones.
- Consider supplements – Ask your doctor about iron if periods become heavy. Calcium and vitamin D are also important.
- Improve diet – Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.
- Use protection – Irregular cycles mean ovulation timing is unpredictable. Use contraception if trying to prevent pregnancy.
- Reduce stress – Stress can make perimenopause symptoms worse. Make time for self-care.
If symptoms become severe, your doctor may recommend starting perimenopause hormone therapy. Low-dose birth control pills can also help regulate cycles.
The bottom line
While a woman may start to experience subtle menstrual changes around age 40, it’s rare for periods to definitively stop at this age without an underlying medical cause.
Periods typically persist through the 40s, although in a more erratic and unpredictable pattern, as the body transitions into perimenopause. Heavy, light, missed, and irregular periods are all common during this time.
Make sure to report troubling period symptoms to your doctor so any potential problems can be properly evaluated and managed. With the right guidance, women can navigate changing cycles and hormone fluctuations during the decade leading up to menopause.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you go into menopause at 40?
It’s uncommon, but possible, to reach menopause by age 40. Only around 5% of women experience premature menopause before age 45. Certain medical conditions or procedures like chemotherapy can trigger early menopause. Most women begin perimenopause in their 40s, but don’t fully stop periods until their late 40s or early 50s.
What age do most women stop getting their period?
The average age for menopause in the United States is 51. But normal menopause can happen any time between ages 45 and 55. Periods usually slow down and become irregular during the years leading up to menopause. It’s rare for periods to suddenly cease without any perimenopausal transition time.
Do periods just stop at menopause?
Periods don’t abruptly halt when menopause hits. The menstrual changes are gradual, spanning multiple years in the lead-up to the final period. During perimenopause, cycles become increasingly erratic. Flow may get heavier, then lighter. Periods are often missed, until finally one period marks the end of fertility. After 12 months without a period, a woman has reached menopause.
What causes periods to stop other than menopause?
There are a number of medical conditions that can cause a woman’s periods to stop before natural menopause, including:
- Hormonal birth control
- Excessive weight loss or excessive exercising
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Premature ovarian failure
- Uterine scarring
- Pelvic radiation therapy
- Chemotherapy treatment
A woman should speak to her doctor if periods suddenly stop before age 45 to determine the underlying cause.
How do you stop getting periods forever?
The only ways to permanently stop menstruation before natural menopause are surgical removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) or surgical removal of the ovaries (oophorectomy). These should only be used as a last resort for severe medical conditions. Other treatments like prescription birth control, endometrial ablation, or hormone medications can sometimes suppress periods, but not necessarily stop them forever.
- It’s uncommon for women to reach full menopause and completely stop periods by age 40.
- Perimenopause usually begins in a woman’s 40s, causing irregular cycles.
- Periods often persist throughout the 40s but become lighter, heavier, and more erratic.
- Seek medical advice if period changes severely impact quality of life.
- Menstrual cycles gradually slow down over multiple years before fully stopping at menopause.