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The menopause doesn't actually technically begin until you have not had a menstrual period for 12 months. But the premenopausal stage, which can drag on for a fair bit, does have plenty of (often unpleasant) symptoms. They include irregular periods, hot flashes, tender and painful breasts, vaginal dryness, mood swings and trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, and more abdominal fat. Are you wondering what awaits you, or are you already there?

My 51 year-old friend started noticing menopausal symptoms when she was 50. Every time she has a period, she hopes it will be her last but that hasn't happened so far. I've asked her some questions so that you can get a close-up look at what it is like to be nearing the menopause.

What were your first signs that the menopause may be approaching?

My menstrual period got less frequent and was not as heavy as before. The irregular menstrual periods were quite a pleasant surprise! What I didn't like was the hot flushes. My head turned as red as a lobster and I started sweating like a pig. I felt like a kind of lobster-pig! The hot flushes did go away pretty quickly though, but I still have my period occasionally. I didn't have a period for more than half a year and then had two in a row. What also aggravated me were my tender breasts weeeeeks before I had a period.

Do you really get more abdominal fat when you are premenopausal?

Well, just before your period you swell up like a balloon, but so far, I am happy to say that my bloated belly disappears again after having a period. But who knows what is to come?

Do you feel different in any way now that you are premenopausal?

No. I sometimes think I am becoming a little more forgetful that before, but I don't feel any of the mental strains that women often talk about. I be quite happy to stop having periods. They are not very nice, are they? I don't feel like less of a woman and I don't think other women should be affected by it either. I heard that some women lose their libido while others actually have a higher sex drive. But me not having a partner, I suppose I don't pay a lot of attention to it!

Did you do anything to relieve the symptoms of the menopause?

I didn't use any medications, either allopathic or natural. I just accepted the symptoms, nasty as they were. Your body has to do what it has to do. But I didn't like the hot flushes much, and the red face, and breaking out in sweat. I must admit that I have felt fine for the last six months or so. The whole process hasn't been as bad as I anticipated.

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