Perimenopause: The Change Before “The Change”

Tired woman

The skinny on menopause has made the rounds.  You know about the hot flashes, mood swings and that any reference to “the change” is likely to bring your favorite middle-aged woman out swinging.  But did you know that most women experience perimenopause prior to menopause?  Similar to an opening act at a concert, perimenopause is the body’s way of saying “Batten down the hatches – the storm is coming.”

Perimenopausal symptoms are not much different from menopausal symptoms.  Common symptoms are hot flashes, breast tenderness, decreased libido, fatigue, urine leakage, mood swings and insomnia.  Less common symptoms are vaginal dryness, incontinence, memory lapses and uterine bleeding.

The average length of perimenopause is about four years but there are outliers.  Some women may only have it for a few months while others can have it for a decade.  Onset usually occurs in the 40’s but some women may go into perimenopause in their late 30’s.

During perimenopause, estrogen levels are on an infinite roller coaster.  Menstrual cycles may be affected and periods may become longer, shorter, heavier, lighter or just more irregular.  The declining estrogen levels signal the body to stop producing eggs and the erratic hormone supplies cause a mass of confusion.  Pregnancy is still possible during menopause.

So aside from a lovely preview of your menopausal years, what do you get out of this?  Admittedly, not much.  The symptoms have during perimenopause are likely to mirror the symptoms you’ll have in menopause.  It’s important to note that perimenopausal symptoms can mimic other issues like thyroid dysfunction.  Consult with your physician to get an accurate diagnosis.

Thankfully, there is help.  Gynecologists may prescribe hormone replacement therapy in the form of oral medication or topical creams.  Adjustments in diet, supplementation and exercise may help alleviate uncomfortable symptoms.  Working out strategies to deal with symptoms during perimenopause will better prepare you for “the real thing.”  Knowing ahead of time what you’ll be dealing with should give you a little… pause.

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