If you ask a room of 20- or 30-something year old women about their periods, chances are good these days that they can tell you where they are in their cycle, what that means for their hormones. But if you ask that same question about perimenopause, you're likely to be met with a sea of somewhat confused faces. Many women have an idea what it is and when it occurs, but they don't have the exact details down.
It's such a big time in a woman's life, yet many of us are relatively uninformed and unprepared and it does raise the question: Why don't we know more about perimenopause?
Although this life stage is well known, there are actually different stages within menopause that are important to recognise and understand. Menopause itself officially occurs when you stop menstruating.
Perimenopause, on the other hand, means “around menopause.” It’s also known as the menopause transitional phase and is called such because it happens before menopause.
Although they’re both part of the same overall life transition, menopause and perimenopause have different symptoms and treatment options.
Premenopause and perimenopause are sometimes used interchangeably, but technically they have different meanings.
Premenopause is when you have no symptoms of perimenopause or menopause.
You still have periods — whether they’re regular or irregular — and are considered to be in your reproductive years. Some hormonal changes may be occurring, but there are no noticeable changes in your body.
On the other hand, during perimenopause, you’ll start to experience symptoms of menopause. They may include:
- changes in your period cycle
- hot flashes
- sleep disturbances
- mood swings
Perimenopause occurs well before you officially hit menopause. In fact, this happens during your 30s or 40s even before the onset of perimenopause.
Perimenopause is marked by a drop in estrogen, the main female hormone produced by the ovaries. The estrogen levels can also go up and down more sporadically than they do in a typical 28-day cycle. This can cause irregular periods and other symptoms.
During the final stages of perimenopause, your body will produce less and less estrogen. Despite the sharp drop in estrogen, it’s still possible to get pregnant. Perimenopause can last for as little as a few months and as long as 4 years.
Menopause officially kicks in when the ovaries produce so little estrogen that eggs are no longer released. This also causes your period to stop.
Menopause can be defined once you haven’t had a period for a full year.
You may enter menopause earlier than normal if you:
have a family history of early menopause
are a smoker
have had a hysterectomy or oophorectomy
have undergone cancer treatments
When it comes to menopause, most people think about the symptoms more than anything else. These can include those infamous hot flashes, but there are many other changes you might experience during this transition.
Symptoms of perimenopause may include:
- irregular periods
- periods that are heavier or lighter than normal
- worse premenstrual syndrome (PMS) before periods
- breast tenderness
- weight gain
- hair changes
- heart palpitations
- loss of sex drive
- concentration difficulties
- muscle aches
- urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- fertility issues in women who are trying to conceive
As estrogen levels drop, you might start experiencing symptoms of menopause. Some of these can occur while you’re still at the perimenopause stage.
- night sweats
- hot flashes
- anxiety or irritability
- mood swings
- dry skin
- vaginal dryness
- frequent urination
Perimenopause and menopause can also increase cholesterol levels. This is one reason why women in postmenopause are at an even higher risk for heart disease.
Continue to have your cholesterol levels measured at least once a year.
Perimenopause and menopause are both transitional phases that indicate an end to your reproductive years.Over the next few weeks we'll be talking about ways you can improve your hormone health, skin care ingredients that affect your hormone health and much more.