What is Perimenopause and What Should I Expect?
When we were young, many of us found that our elders did their best to prepare us for puberty. They talked to us about our changing bodies and what we could expect to happen within the next few years. We were nervous and excited as we anticipated these changes and witnessed them in ourselves and among our peers. Looking back now on those years, many of us will think, "Well, I'm so glad that's over!"
What many women were not prepared for, however, is how their bodies would continue to change over time. While many are aware that menopause may be on the horizon, they may be less aware that looming much larger and closer is a season known as perimenopause.
What Is Perimenopause?
There are some women who assume that menopause will hit them the way their first periods did: they will wake up one morning, and there it will be. However, that's not how this transition really works, and to further complicate matters, many women go through an extended time of perimenopause first.
A period of transition into menopause, perimenopause literally means "around menopause," and refers to the time when your body starts naturally transitioning toward the close of your reproductive years.
During this time of life, your body is
- Releasing eggs with less regularity
- Producing less estrogen and other hormones
- Seeing a gradual decline infertility
- Tending toward shorter/irregular cycles
While some women seek treatment during this phase to deal with perimenopausal symptoms, other women do not—often because they are unaware this phase even exists.
If you are around the age when most women begin experiencing perimenopause or if you recognize some of the signs and symptoms developing in your body, you may want to book an appointment to consult with us.
When Does Perimenopause Start?
This is a difficult question to answer with complete accuracy because it will be different for each woman. Perimenopause can start between eight and ten years before the onset of menopause—the point at which a woman's body begins ceasing her menstrual flows completely.
As we know, women begin menopause at different ages and experience different lengths of time in that phase. To further complicate matters, the wide margin for the onset of perimenopause makes nailing down an exact date even more challenging.
With all that being said, although our bodies are often unpredictable, many women who experience perimenopause start noticing the onset of symptoms while they are in their 40s.
How Long Does Perimenopause Last?
This also is a difficult question to answer with a blanket response.
The length of each stage of the menopause transition can vary for each individual. The average length of perimenopause is about four years. Some women may only be in this stage for a few months, while others will be in this transition phase for more than four years. If you have gone more than 12 months without having a period, you are no longer perimenopausal. (Cleveland Clinic)
Again, the perimenopausal period is a transitional time leading up to menopause. Just as we observed with the onset of puberty when we were growing up, changes occur at different times for different women. Think "early bloomers" and "late bloomers," just in a different context.
Factors that can affect differences in the onset of perimenopause and menopause can include:
- Medical conditions
- Family history/genetics
- Habits around exercise and nutrition
- Environmental factors
Of course, there may be situations specific to you that may be affecting your experience with these matters. The best way to get your questions answered is to discuss them with a doctor directly.
What Are Some Signs and Symptoms of Perimenopause?
While no two women will experience perimenopause in precisely the same ways, here are a few signs and symptoms that seem to crop up the most often.
Unfortunately, many women experience hot flashes long before they actually enter menopause: 30%-70% of perimenopausal women suffer them either in mild or severe forms. Linked to women's fluctuating estrogen levels during this time of their lives, hot flashes can be disruptive and frustrating.
Even when a hot flash doesn't interrupt her night, a perimenopausal woman is likely to experience changes to her sleep patterns. Poor sleep, sleep disturbances, and difficulty with falling asleep and staying that way can all be symptoms of this phase.
Though estrogen is not yet as consistently low as it will be during menopause, ongoing hormonal fluctuations will lead perimenopausal women to experience times of vaginal dryness. This, in turn, leads to pain and itching around the affected area, discomfort during sexual intercourse, and an increased chance of developing UTI's.
As our bodies change and our hormones fluctuate, sometimes it's harder than usual to keep our emotions on an even keel. But this matter is a bit more serious than just noticing changes to your mood. Depressive symptoms are more likely to be reported by women who are perimenopausal.
Joint and Muscle Aches
Again, hormone fluctuations affect our bodies' abilities to hold water, stay hydrated, and keep our joints lubricated. As we head toward menopause, then, it's no surprise that we feel ourselves stiffening up and suffering increases in joint and muscle pain.
Other symptoms experienced by perimenopausal women may include
- Changes in libido
- Frequent urination
- Ongoing PMS-like symptoms
- Trouble Concentrating
- Night sweats
If you recognize yourself in this list, you may be entering the phase of perimenopause. Because of the unpredictability of this time in life, and due to the wide array of symptoms women experience (many of which were not listed in an article of this nature), perimenopause can be difficult to self-diagnose.
We're here to help. If you have questions or concerns about either perimenopause or menopause, or if you would like to talk about any other health needs, please feel free to contact us here at The Women's Clinic.
We look forward to meeting you, answering your questions, and serving you in any way necessary. Schedule your appointment today!