You’ve most likely heard of menopause, but did you know the transitional period before reaching menopause is called perimenopause? Perimenopause is not as commonly talked about as menopause, but it should be. Women need to know what to expect during this delicate time in their lives so that we can be better equipped to deal with the symptoms when they arise.
Around your 40s, you might wake up in the middle of the night sweating, your periods might become irregular, or you may experience mood swings. If any of these sound familiar to you, chances are, you are going through perimenopause. During this phase, your ovaries begin producing less estrogen as it’s preparing to stop releasing eggs. You’re naturally going to feel new sensations that can be scary if you are unprepared for change, which is why we’re going to get into the nitty-gritty of perimenopause, and how to deal with the transition.
What is perimenopause?
It’s the time during a woman’s life when the body is preparing to transition into menopause. Menopause starts once you have missed your period for 12 consecutive months, so the time before that happens is considered perimenopause.
Perimenopause can occur as early as your mid-30s or as late as your mid-50s. The average time for this transitional phase is in your 40s. This transitional period varies for everyone. Some women are in perimenopause for a few months, while for others, it lasts anywhere from four to eight years.
You’ll begin to notice physical changes as your body is adjusting to the decrease in the estrogen production. Your fertility is coming to an end at this phase in your life, but you are still able to become pregnant. Your symptoms, the age at which it starts, and the age at which it ends will look different from other women, but there are still some similarities that can help you better understand what your body is going through.
What are the symptoms?
These symptoms will vary in intensity from woman to woman, but if you are experiencing a few of these, you’re most likely going through perimenopause. Some of these symptoms are also the most common signs of menopause.
- Irregular periods where you’ll miss a month or two, or multiple periods in one cycle
- A heavier or lighter period than normal
- Hot flashes
- Irritability or mood swings
- Vaginal dryness or discomfort during sex
- Frequent urination
During this time, it’s important to visit your healthcare provider regularly to ensure that your body is functioning normally. Your doctor will notice if anything is out of the ordinary.
When should I see a doctor?
If you are noticing any of the following, seek medical assistance immediately.
- Your periods are very heavy, and you notice blood clots
- Your menstrual cycle is lasting several days longer than it normally does
- You notice spotting or bleeding after your period
- You are spotting after sex
- Your periods are occurring closer together
Although irregular periods occur during perimenopause, you must rule out any severe medical issues, such as infections, blood-clotting, or cancer.
How do I lessen the effects of perimenopause symptoms?
Although there isn’t a method to stop perimenopause altogether, there are ways to help ease your symptoms to help with the discomfort. There are over-the-counter drugs or prescriptions that you can take, such as:
- Vaginal creams: The creams help to alleviate pain from sex or relieve vaginal dryness.
- Estrogen therapy: Your estrogen levels will be all over the place during perimenopause. This treatment will stabilize your estrogen levels and comes in the form of a pill, patch, gel, or cream.
- Antidepressants: Your doctor may temporarily prescribe these pills to help with mood swings or depression.
- Birth control pills: These are prescribed to stabilize hormone levels.
- Gabapentin: This medicine is a seizure medication prescribed to relieve hot flashes.
Your healthcare provider will recommend a plan that works for you because each woman experiences perimenopause differently. While these medications can help to temporarily relieve your symptoms, they have side effects, which your doctor will discuss with you.
A more holistic approach to dealing with perimenopause is to change your diet and lifestyle. You can eat healthier, incorporate exercise, and avoid foods or activities that may trigger symptoms to arise.
What are the health risks associated with perimenopause?
Health risks associated with perimenopause typically occur right before reaching menopause. Estrogen is a necessary hormone to preserve the health of your bones. Because your body is no longer naturally producing as much estrogen, you may develop osteoporosis, in which the inside of your bones becomes fragile. You can take vitamins, calcium supplements, or perform more exercise to counter the effects of the decrease in estrogen levels.
Perimenopause may be an uncomfortable stage of your life, but it is natural, and you aren’t going through it alone. Knowing what to expect during this transition can allow you to prepare for any symptoms. Speak with your healthcare professional if you think you are going through perimenopause now.