Many women are well aware of the signs and symptoms of menopause, but are far less knowledgeable about perimenopause. In fact, many don’t even know what perimenopause is at all. But don’t feel bad if you’re in that boat—we’re here to fill you in on everything you need to know about this life stage. Perimenopause is a transitional time period before menopause where the female body starts to produce less estrogen. It typically lasts somewhere between four and eight years, and often begins when a woman is in her 40’s, though in some cases, perimenopause may begin in the 30’s or even earlier.
Some women experience nothing other than irregular or missed menstrual periods during perimenopause, whereas others experience far more changes in the body. If you suspect you may be going through perimenopause, here are some signature signs to look out for:
Night Sweats and Hot Flashes: A hot flash is basically a wave of increased body heat that comes on suddenly, lasts a few minutes, and may be experienced along with a rapid heartbeat, sweating, and reddening skin. Hot flashes become more common for many women as hormone levels change approaching menopause, and can also manifest in the form of night sweats, which can sometimes disturb sleep, especially when they’re frequent.
Irregular periods: It’s not at all uncommon for periods to become irregular as you enter perimenopause, whether this means going a longer or shorter amount of time between periods, or even skipping them altogether. If you notice your menstrual cycle changes by seven days or longer over a consistent period of time, this can be a sign of early perimenopause. Meanwhile, going 60 days or longer between periods could indicate that you’re in late perimenopause. Some women also experience increased bleeding and cramps during this time period.
Decreased fertility: As you would expect, as you start to ovulate less frequently, you are also less likely to conceive. It is important to keep in mind that it is still possible to get pregnant during this time period though.
Mood changes: Your hormone levels will fluctuate during perimenopause, and so will your mood. Many women experience mood swings, irritability, depression, and anxiety.
Dryness during sex and other vaginal issues: Lower levels of estrogen are a given during perimenopause. As these estrogen levels become lower, you may experience dryness and discomfort such as pain, soreness, and burning sensations during intercourse. You may also experience a higher than normal amount of vaginal infections and urinary tract infections. Some women take low-doses of estrogen to deal with these problems.
Decreased Libido: Interest in sex and arousal may decrease during perimenopause, but for many people this doesn’t change during and after perimenopause.
Decreased bone mass: As estrogen decreases, so might calcium levels and bone mass. This puts many women at risk of osteoporosis, which can leave you with weak and brittle bones that are prone to breaks. Make sure to keep an eye on your bone mass as you go through perimenopause so that you’re able to actively address any issues that arise.
Cholesterol Problems: Blood cholesterol levels may become problematic during perimenopause. Some women see an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is often known as ‘bad cholesterol’ and a decrease in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, often known as ‘good cholesterol.’ Both of these changes can increase your risk for heart disease. Similar to bone mass, you’ll want to keep an eye on your cholesterol during perimenopause.
What you can do if symptoms are severe: If you feel that your perimenopause symptoms are causing serious discomfort or are too much to handle, there are some treatments that can help. As we mentioned earlier, taking low-doses of estrogen is helpful in certain situations, as are estrogen injections and low-hormone birth control pills. Some also take medications or make dietary changes as a way of combating cholesterol and bone mass issues. And some people find therapy helpful for dealing with a decreased sex drive. Other habits and lifestyle changes known to be helpful during perimenopause include maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, reducing alcohol intake, and exercising.
If you’re concerned about perimenopause or still have questions, you may find it helpful to speak to a doctor. Call Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.