The road to menopause is a bumpy one, with no definite timeline. It’s described as the spontaneous, permanent ending of a woman’s menstruation period, marking the end of female reproduction. Menopause is a natural event that occurs to every woman from the ages of 40 to 60 with the average woman being 51 years at the onset of menopause. However, is some women it may come earlier or later in life depending on different factors such as lifestyle habits like smoking. Most of us are familiar with the term menopause, but there are different stages that lead up to menopause. Today’s article explores the term perimenopause, what it means and how to tell if you’re in perimenopause.
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the transition from the reproductive age through to menopause. Also known as menopausal transition, perimenopause starts manifesting several years in advance, mostly between eight to 10 years before hitting menopause.
It happens when you’re in your 30s or 40s when your estrogen levels start to drop or rise sporadically. As the perimenopause phase draws to an end, your body starts to produce less and less estrogen until no eggs are released. As a result, your menstrual periods stop. Your doctors will officially confirm you’re in menopause stage once you’ve had no periods for 12 consecutive months.
Understanding what to expect during the perimenopause stage is important as you’ll be in a better position to know what the symptoms mean, when to expect them and how to manage the perimenopause symptoms.
Symptoms of Perimenopause Hot Flashes
Also called hot flushes, these are the most common symptoms signaling you’re in the perimenopause phase. Hot flashes affect women differently and they tend to be sudden and rapid. They can last from one minute to five minutes and the severity varies from a brief sense of warmth to a feeling of burning from the inside out. These waves of heat usually affect the upper part of the body and may be accompanied by heavy sweating. Women find hot flashes to be very distressing and can even interfere with your sleep. Sometimes, red spots may appear on the chest, face, and arms.
How to Manage Hot Flashes
- Doctors may prescribe low-dose birth control pills to help you manage the symptoms.
- Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) may also be employed. However, hormonal changes may not augur well with your body and women with a family history of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer may be at risk if they take this treatment.
- Avoid triggers such as stress alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods.
Another common symptom you may notice as you’re entering perimenopause is a change in your periods. Your menstrual period may be longer or shorter and your bleeding may become lighter or heavier than normal. Since your periods change from being regular to irregular, birth control pills may help, especially if you don’t want to become pregnant. Yes, it’s possible to still become pregnant during perimenopause. If you notice heavy bleeding that isn’t the norm, you must check in with your doctor to rule out if the bleeding may be caused by other conditions.
During the perimenopause phase, estrogen levels drop and vaginal tissue starts to thin out and dry out. This leads to vaginal dryness which can put you in an uncomfortable position due to itching and irritation. Vaginal dryness can also cause pain, soreness, and discomfort during sexual intercourse, leading to a decline in sexual drive. To help manage vaginal dryness, there are over-the-counter products such as vaginal lubricants and moisturizers. Your doctor could also prescribe topical estrogen cream to reduce the dryness.
Due to a decrease in hormone levels, you’ll experience highs and lows or anxiety. You may become easily irritable and even find yourself crying for no apparent reason. Triggers such as stress should be avoided during this period. Interestingly, many women feel rested and calmer than they did before during perimenopause. The good news is that there are several treatments for mood conditions and you need to speak to your doctor to know what’s best for you.
Sleep difficulties is a major symptom that affects many women. This may be caused by other symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. Unfortunately, lack of sleep can interfere with your daily activities and it’s best if you plan how to manage sleep. A good example would be to read a book you love, avoid smoking, set a bedtime schedule and stick by it, avoid large meals at night, reduce caffeine, and sleep in total darkness.
Short-Term Memory Loss
Another telltale sign of perimenopause if being forgetful. Many women misplace phones and other items. Sometimes, you might be looking for your phone while you’re talking on it. Similarly, you forget appointments, feel clumsy and have difficulty concentrating. Short-term memory loss should be investigated by your doctor to establish if there are other underlying medical conditions.
The drop in estrogen also affects your bone density. Loss of minerals may lead to bone loss and you’ll need to up your intake of vitamin D. Additionally, engage in exercises such as weight training, cycling and walking to help increase and maintain your bone density as well as bone health. During perimenopause, you’re encouraged to drink lots of water, eat a nutritious balanced diet and be sure to get all the essential vitamins and minerals, even if it means taking supplements.
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