Sarah Stern began experiencing sudden hot flashes, irregular menstrual cycles, sleep disturbances, and night sweats in her early 30s. Initially confused, she later learned from a fertility clinic that she was in perimenopause. Perimenopause is a transitional stage leading up to menopause, which can begin a decade before menopause. While menopause technically lasts only one day (marked by 12 months without a period), perimenopause can cause various symptoms. Many women, like Sarah, feel that the medical community doesn’t adequately recognize or address perimenopause symptoms.
What Is Perimenopause? Perimenopause is the period immediately before menopause. It typically occurs during a woman’s 40s, but some might notice changes as early as their mid-30s. During this phase, women may observe subtle alterations in their menstrual cycle length, duration, and flow. This is also when fertility starts to decline due to fluctuating hormone patterns. On average, perimenopause lasts for four years, but it can be as short as a few months. In the final one or two years leading up to menopause, the drop in estrogen becomes more pronounced, leading to menopausal symptoms even while menstruating. A good predictor of when perimenopause will start is the age at which one’s mother entered menopause.
Symptoms of perimenopause include changes in menstrual cycles, mood shifts, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, and more. While there’s no specific test to diagnose perimenopause, tracking symptoms can help. Treatments for symptoms range from oral contraceptives to hormone therapy and even some antidepressants. Non-hormonal treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnosis, have also been found effective for hot flashes.
It’s essential for women to educate themselves about perimenopause, monitor their health, practice self-care, and find a supportive community to navigate this life transition.
Stages Leading Up To Menopause:
- Pre-menopause: Women have full ovarian function, producing estrogen and ovulating regularly.
- Perimenopause: Ovarian function starts to fluctuate, leading to unpredictable menstrual cycles and symptoms.
- Menopause: Occurs when the ovaries have ceased functioning, marked by 12 months without menstruation.
First Sign Of Perimenopause: The initial sign of perimenopause is typically a disruption in the menstrual cycle. Periods might start earlier or later than usual. Some women might skip months and then experience heavier periods when they do menstruate.
Symptoms Of Perimenopause:
- Hot flashes
- Trouble sleeping
- Night sweats
- Reduced libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings
- Thinning hair
- Brain fog
These symptoms arise due to the ovaries producing less estrogen, leading the body to adjust to functioning with reduced levels of this hormone. The intensity and type of symptoms vary among women.
It’s essential to consult a doctor during perimenopause to rule out other potential causes for the symptoms. For instance, heavy or unexpected bleeding could indicate fibroids or uterine cancer, while night sweats and a racing heartbeat might be signs of a thyroid disorder.
Managing Perimenopausal Symptoms: Lifestyle changes can significantly help in alleviating perimenopausal symptoms. These include practicing yoga, engaging in regular exercise, meditation, and weight loss if necessary. Hormone therapy, vaginal estrogen treatments, and antidepressants can also be beneficial. It’s crucial to work with a gynecologist to develop a tailored treatment plan.