Although they are often used interchangeably, climacteric and menopause do not mean the same thing. They are related, but different.
Climacteric is defined as the period of transition from the reproductive to the non-reproductive stage in a woman. This period lasts about 10 to 15 years and begins well before menopause, the age at which the last spontaneous menstruation occurs (Secretaría de Salud, n.d.).
Thus, the climacteric is a normal stage characterised by gradual changes leading to the end of menstruation. This stage is divided into three phases (Dexeus, n.d.):
- Perimenopause: this occurs prior to the end of menstruation, which is why cycle alterations and other symptoms appear.
- Menopause: in this phase, menstruation ceases definitively.
- Postmenopause: this last phase occurs after the menopause and is characterised by the occurrence of alterations due to hormonal deficits.
As you can see, the two are related, but they are not the same thing. The menopause is a phase of the climacteric stage in women’s lives.
Differences between climacteric and menopause
At what age do they start?
Perimenopause, the first phase of climacteric, can appear sometime after the age of 40. At this age, the first signs of progression to menopause begin to be noticed.
Many women, however, may begin to experience climacteric changes as early as 35. This stage can last approximately 4-5 years (Mayo Clinic, 2021a; Secretaría de Salud, n.d.).
Menopause, on the other hand, occurs when a woman does not have a menstrual period for a year. This usually occurs naturally after the age of 45. In addition, it occurs because the ovaries stop producing oestrogen and progesterone.
Why do they occur?
Both climacteric and menopause are stages marked by a decline in female hormones. As you approach the age of 40, i.e. climacteric, the ovaries produce less oestrogen and progesterone, the hormones that regulate menstrual periods. From this point on, fertility begins to decline.
For this reason, menstruation becomes irregular. It can be more or less intense, frequent and short, until eventually, on average at the age of 51, no more hormones are produced and menstruation stops. This is when you enter menopause (Mayo Clinic, 2021b).
What are its symptoms?
Signs and symptoms that may accompany climacteric, and thus menopause, include (Mayo Clinic, 2021a; 2021b):
- Irregular menstrual periods.
- Hot flushes.
- Sleep problems.
- Mood changes.
- Night sweats.
- Weight gain and slow metabolism.
- Thinning hair and dry skin.
- Loss of breast volume.
- Vaginal dryness, loss of elasticity and lubrication. This can cause discomfort and pain during sexual intercourse.
- Increased risk of incontinence and urinary tract infections.
- Changes in sexual desire.
- Decreased bone density, which may increase the risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
- Changes in cholesterol levels, which may increase the risk of heart disease.
Many of the signs and symptoms associated with the concepts of climacteric and menopause may improve with hormone replacement therapy. However, it should be noted that this menopausal treatment can only be recommended and administered by a specialist, provided that the benefits outweigh the possible risks (SEMI, n.d.).
Why is it important to know what climacteric and menopause are?
Knowing the possible changes your body may be going through can help you identify your own transition. Also, by knowing the symptoms, you can be aware of any other signs that are not typical of this stage and could indicate something else.
In addition, learning about climacteric and menopause can also increase your empowerment over your body and help you make lifestyle changes that can benefit you in coping with this stage in the best way possible.
Dexeus. (n.d.). Menopausia: una etapa para mimarse. https://www.dexeus.com/informacion-de-salud/enciclopedia-ginecologica/tu-vida-etapa-a-etapa/menopausia
Mayo Clinic. (2021a). Perimenopausia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/es-es/diseases-conditions/perimenopause/symptoms-causes/syc-20354666
Mayo Clinic. (2021b). Menopausia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/es-es/diseases-conditions/menopause/symptoms-causes/syc-20353397
MedlinePlus. (2020). Menopausia. https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/menopause.html
Secretaría de Salud. (n.d.). Climaterio y menopausia. Instituto de Salud del Estado de México. https://salud.edomex.gob.mx/isem/climaterio_menopausia
Sociedad Española de Medicina Interna [SEMI]. (s.f.). Menopausia y climaterio. https://www.fesemi.org/informacion-pacientes/conozca-mejor-su-enfermedad/menopausia-y-climaterio
Torres, A., & Torres, J. (2018). Climaterio y menopausia. Revista de la Facultad de Medicina de la UNAM, 61(2), 51-58. https://www.medigraphic.com/pdfs/facmed/un-2018/un182j.pdf