Before a woman becomes post-menopausal, she reaches menopause and experiences typical menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Before menopause there is perimenopause, which you don’t often hear about in regards to women’s health, but it is there and it gives a woman a preview of what it’s like dealing with menopause. Perimenopause is a transitional period that typically begins when a woman is in her 40s, although it has been known to start in her late 30s or even earlier.
Perimenopause, also known as “menopausal transition,” typically endures for four years. It might last only several months for some women and up to 10 years for others; the only known factor being that perimenopause is deemed finished when a woman has gone without a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months, per webmd.com. That’s when the clock starts on menopause, which is that point in a woman’s life is when her ovaries cease to release eggs.
So, What Happens During Perimenopause?
This is the time in a woman’s life that marks the beginning of the end of her reproductive years. Per mayoclinic.org, the estrogen level in her body – referring to the main female hormone – rises and falls unevenly. Her menstrual cycles become unpredictable; sometimes they lengthen and at other times they shorten, and she might even start having menstrual cycles in which she doesn’t ovulate (when ovaries release an egg).
Most women experience a drop in fertility as they hit their late 30s and beyond, but it is still possible to become pregnant during perimenopause. To help yourself in such a cause, see your physician to discuss possible treatments. If you don’t want to get pregnant during perimenopause, consider using some form of birth control again, under a physician’s guidance.
Then there are the symptoms of perimenopause, which include the following:
- Hot flashes. These can also include night sweats, which involve a sudden sensation of body heat accompanied by sweating and flushing that can last five to 10 minutes, per health.harvard.edu. The intensity of these “heat waves” can be significantly different from one woman to the next – some will feel slight warmness whereas others end up drenched in sweat.
- Vaginal dryness. This usually shows up in the later stages of perimenopause, when women have to deal with decreasing estrogen levels, resulting in thinned, drier vaginal tissue. Such dryness can lead to itching and irritation, and can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable, a contributing factor to a reduced sex drive, per health.harvard.edu.
- Fatigue. Chalk that up to sleep disturbances that show up during perimenopause. See “Sleep Issues” below.
- Bone loss. With the ongoing drop in estrogen, women lose bone quicker than it gets replaced, leaving them more susceptible to osteoporosis, per mayoclinic.org.
- Irregular periods. This is due to unpredictable ovulation during perimenopause. An interval of 60 days or more usually indicates you are nearing the end of perimenopause, per mayoclinic.org.
- Uterine bleeding problems. Because there is a reduced level of progesterone during this time to control the growth of the endometrium (the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus), the uterine lining could thicken before it’s shed, producing heavier-than-normal periods.
- Mood swings. Per health.harvard.edu, only about 10-12 percent of women report having to deal with mood-related symptoms during perimenopause, although it’s not known how much falling hormone levels are a factor. It could be the unpredictability of menopausal transition itself that generates mood swing, as it’s a stressful time, and stress can be linked to exhibited irritability.
- Mental issues. Women have reported having short-term memory problems and reduced ability to concentrate during perimenopause.
- Sleep issues. Nearly half of perimenopausal women will experience sleep problems, with fluctuating hormone levels a possible factor (but not the only one). Night sweats can also do a number on a woman’s quality of sleep, disrupting her sleep, per mayoclinic.org.
How to Ease Symptoms of Perimenopause
Per webmd.com, there are a number of ways to relieve perimenopause symptoms. For example, low-dose birth-control pills for a short time can offer relief from hot flashes. Following are some common-sense things you can do on your own, and those, too, might merit a discussion with your physician to see what he or she might have in mind for you:
- Exercise. Running or walking is a good start.
- Stop smoking.
- Work on your sleep. Going to bed and getting up at the same time for each should help.
- Cut back on alcohol consumption.
- Get enough calcium in your diet.
- If not already there, get to a healthy weight. This can also help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Consider a multivitamin. For that, talk to your doc.