There are plenty of special trials women have to face during their lives. Monthly periods can bring all kinds of pain and discomfort, and when menstruation finally comes to an end, they bring a last extra bit of discomfort.
No woman looks forward to menopause. It seems to be different for each individual, and no doubt you’ve heard horror stories of exceptionally bad menopauses, or perimenopause.
So, what is perimenopause? What can you expect, and how can you identify the early signs of perimenopause? Let’s find out.
What Is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the time surrounding menopause - before, after, and during. During menopause, the body changes. Menstruation stops, hormone levels change, and reproduction is no longer possible.
As you can imagine, this transition can be difficult and unpleasant. Perimenopause normally starts in the 40s and can last for around 7 to 8 years.
During perimenopause, you can expect a lot of changes, both to your mood and your body. Your chances of getting pregnant during perimenopause are much slimmer.
9 Early Signs of Perimenopause
Perimenopause can start at different times for everyone. Let’s consider a few signs that could indicate that you’ve started perimenopause.
One of the first and most well-known signs of perimenopause is irregular periods. You might have been as regular as a train timetable for most of your life, but perimenopause can change all that.
You might notice low bleeding or heavy bleeding one month, periods lasting longer than usual, or starting significantly earlier or later, or even skip a period. If you go at least two months without a period, this is a clear sign that perimenopause has started.
While period changes for women of a certain age are usually a sign of perimenopause, feel free to consult a doctor if you have symptoms that make you uncomfortable, like periods that last for longer than a week, spotting between periods, or your period resumes after a year of no periods.
Hot flashes (also known as hot flushes) are commonly associated with menopause. A hot flash is when a person’s temperature suddenly rises, causing intense discomfort, redness, and sweating.
A hot flash can last anywhere between 30 seconds and 10 minutes, and can also occur at night, known as a night sweat. Hot flashes are uncomfortable, distracting, and can strike without warning. They can disrupt sleep and cause problems at work.
Unfortunately, hot flashes affect up to 80% of perimenopausal women, so you’re likely to suffer a few flashes!
During perimenopause, hormone levels change, and estrogen levels drop. This can leave a woman with a low sex drive. Vaginal dryness can be another side effect of perimenopause, which can also affect the libido.
On the other hand, dropping estrogen levels can lead to higher testosterone levels, which can actually increase the libido in some women.
Perimenopausal period changes might include heavy bleeding. It’s important not to ignore heavy bleeding, as it can lead to fatigue and anemia. It can affect your life at work and in private, leaving you feeling weak and drained.
You may be able to manage heavy bleeding yourself with iron-rich foods. However, it’s good to consult a doctor to make sure your heavy bleeding isn’t causing an iron deficiency.
Due to low estrogen levels and hot flashes, you may notice a difference in your sleep quality. You might find that you have more difficulty in falling and staying asleep. Night sweats can disrupt sleep and leave you feeling fatigued and exhausted over time.
Just like any hormone imbalance, perimenopause can leave you feeling depressed, anxious, and irritable - sometimes all at once. Unfortunately, mood changes are to be expected with perimenopause.
How severe your mood changes are will depend on you as an individual. You can manage these mood changes just like you would any other mood swing. Treat your depressed and anxious feelings just as seriously as you would any other feeling, but it can help to remind yourself that these feelings are just because of your fluctuating hormone levels.
Unsurprisingly, all of the side effects of perimenopause can leave you feeling weak and lethargic. Hormone changes can also contribute to fatigue, as well as poor sleep, iron deficiency due to heavy bleeding, and more.
You may also notice that you have more difficulty remembering important things, and some women have even noticed “brain fog”. This is because your changing hormone levels can impact your verbal and learning memory.
As if everything we’ve mentioned so far isn’t enough, perimenopause can also cause bladder issues! You might find yourself needing to urinate more frequently, or you might even experience incontinence.
Easing the Symptoms of Perimenopause
Now that we’ve discussed all the horrible symptoms of perimenopause, is there anything you can do to stop these symptoms?
Unfortunately, perimenopause symptoms vary from person to person - so if the older female members of your family had bad menopause, you likely will too.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help to ease the painful side effects of hormone imbalances. Alternatively, you can speak to a doctor about help with issues such as heavy bleeding and hot flashes.
Over-the-counter treatments are also available for vaginal dryness.
Of course, a healthy lifestyle will also go a long way to helping you deal with perimenopause. A balanced diet, plenty of exercise, and avoiding bad habits (such as smoking or excessive drinking) can also help the perimenopause period go by smoothly.
The Bottom Line
If you’re concerned about your perimenopause for any reason, consult a doctor.
Here are a couple of symptoms that aren’t part of perimenopause:
- Heavy bleeding and/or blood clots
- Periods which significantly longer than a week
- Spotting after a period ends
- Spotting after sex
- Periods resuming after having stopped altogether
While perimenopause isn’t particularly pleasant, it is natural. There’s no need to be embarrassed about your symptoms since this is a natural transition that happens to every woman.Need help navigating your diet and lifestyle through perimenopause? Coaching with Geeta can help you determine what foods work best for you and your body. Find out how you can start making the best choices for your health and during each phase of life.