The word “menopause” is a loaded one. For many women, it conjures up feelings of anxiety and confusion because most of us don’t talk about it openly or frequently enough. Then, to add to the uncertainty, friends and the media start talking about “perimenopause” – what is that?
Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated or scary as it seems. Here are the basics of perimenopause to help you prepare for the next stage of your life.
You are officially in menopause once you have gone one full year without a period. Perimenopause is the phase prior to that, where your body gradually begins to stop making estrogen (it’s also called pre-menopause).
During perimenopause you might skip your period or it might become erratic, but you’re only considered menopausal once your periods have stopped completely for a year. Perimenopause is actually the stage when you will most likely start to feel the side effects commonly associated with menopause.
As your body adjusts to fluctuating estrogen levels you may experience a few other temporary symptoms:
- Mood swings, irritability, depression and other emotional states similar to those experienced during pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).
- Hot flashes or night sweats. During a hot flash, you may feel a sudden feeling of warmth on your upper body that might be accompanied by a rash or blotchiness on your skin.
- Sleep issues and fatigue, usually associated with hot flashes or night sweats, but could also be due to increased stress.
- Lower sex drive or libido due to fluctuating estrogen levels and decreased blood flow to the vagina.
- Tenderness in the breasts, much like you may have experienced before your period or during pregnancy.
- Weight gain and food cravings, can also be an effect of lower estrogen.
During perimenopause you may also start experiencing vaginal and bladder issues. Lower estrogen levels cause vaginal and urinary tract tissues to lose tone and moisture, which can cause dryness and discomfort during sex and can make you more prone to bladder leaks. Unfortunately, these changes are not temporary.
Most women enter perimenopause in their 40’s, but some women start as early as their mid-30’s. The average length of perimenopause is four years, but some women experience these symptoms for as little as a few months while others endure them for 10 years.
The good news is that once you’ve reached full menopause (no period for a year) many of these symptoms should disappear as your hormone levels settle. There are also a variety of ways you can reduce your symptoms and minimize your discomfort during perimenopause.
Managing Your Perimenopause Symptoms
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend estrogen hormone therapy but there are also several lifestyle changes you can make to relieve your symptoms and prepare your body for menopause.
Eating a healthy, nutrient rich diet and exercising will keep your weight in check, help you sleep, improve your mood, and some women even find it reduces symptoms like hot flashes.
Engaging in stress-relieving activities that work for you like yoga, meditation or going for long walks with a friend will also give you some relief from the symptoms and a greater feeling of control. There are also vitamins, natural supplements and over the counter products like intimate moisturizers for vaginal dryness that can help with symptoms.
Pelvic Floor Exercise (aka Kegels)
Kegels are an essential exercise for all women as they approach menopause. These will strengthen your pelvic floor and increase blood circulation to the pelvic area, helping enormously with urinary incontinence and discomfort during sex.
A smart Kegel exerciser can help you easily integrate Kegels into your daily routine – the best type of exerciser automatically chooses your routine for you and guides you through each session. All you have to do is set aside 5 minutes each day for your Kegels.
As with anything associated with health, every woman will experience perimenopause slightly differently. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms so they can provide you with advice that’s right for you.
Although perimenopause can be challenging, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Seeking comfort in friends who are also going through this transition period or joining online support groups will make it easier to cope. Stay informed and stay positive, and you can deal with any difficulties that come along during this new phase of your life.