Have you recently been experiencing irregular menstrual periods, often having a heavier or milder flow compared to normal cycles? Are there times during the day or night when you feel a sudden rush of heat throughout parts of your body, including your face and neck? Maybe you’ve been feeling slightly more irritable than usual, and your moods are all over the place, coming and going in a constant ebb and flow.
These and other symptoms are all often linked to perimenopause, a phase of menopause that takes place before a woman, or a person assigned female at birth (AFAB), enters the menopausal stage of midlife.
While experts are certain that natural menopause can last anywhere between seven and fourteen years, often starting during a person’s mid-40s, early signs of menopause can sometimes be present even well before a person has reached the age of menopause.
Perhaps you or someone you know might’ve been experiencing some irregularities in recent months and are not yet sure what this might be, or how to handle these sudden changes.
In the following article, we’re going to do a deep dive into the earliest signs of menopause and look at some coping strategies and remedies you can follow to help alleviate menopausal symptoms.
Recognizing the Perimenopausal Phase
While perimenopause is considered a natural and biological change most women will experience during their midlife, this stage of menopause is often considered the first transitory phase of menopause.
Perimenopause can be different for each person and varies greatly from woman to woman. On average, perimenopause continues for roughly three to four years, and will usually commence around the age of 45 years.
The age at which perimenopause will take place will vary, as some women have reported experiencing some menopause symptoms several years before the time. In fact, one paper estimates that around five percent of women will enter menopause early in their life, typically between the average age of 40 and 45 years.
During this time - perimenopause - a person might begin to notice some irregularities, the most noticeable being hot flashes or night sweats.
Similarly, other symptoms, such as irregular periods are common, although this would often mean that a person might have a heavier or milder flow, compared to normal menstrual cycles. A person’s regular menstrual cycle will begin to change, often going a month or two without a period, only to start later again.
Take A Look At Doctor Explains Signs of Perimenopause:
Other things such as mood changes, feeling irritable, and emotional instability may occur. Night sweats may lead to sleeplessness, or cause a person to feel tired, often leading to feelings of insomnia. Family history, may also be a leading factor of premature ovarian failure, or when early menopause occurs.
Changes in sexual desire might lead a person to feel less sexually attracted to their partner due to lower libido. Other things such as vaginal dryness, which is caused by the drying and thinning of the vaginal wall might make sexual intercourse less comfortable, or often cause some bleeding after intercourse.
Cognitive decline sometimes referred to as “brain fog” might make it harder to concentrate during work or studying.
More than this, periods of chronic fatigue, the feeling of persistent mental, cognitive, and physical fatigue for longer than six months, cause a bothersome time in which a person might feel less “present” within the moment, or simply have mental difficulty during day-to-day activities.
These, and other symptoms are all often related to perimenopause, and while it’s suggested that many women might experience these symptoms years before menopause, usually around the average age of 45 years, there are cases where a person might find themselves having these symptoms earlier than anticipated.
Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Early Menopause
By now, we’re well aware of the various physical and psychological symptoms a person might be experiencing during perimenopause. Although, this might only be the tip of the iceberg, and in the following section, we’ll be further investigating some of the most common symptoms women may experience during early menopause.
Irregular Menstrual Cycles and Period Changes
One of the first noticeable changes a person may experience during perimenopause is the frequency of irregular menstrual periods. During this time, estrogen levels and other reproductive hormones will typically fluctuate, causing periods to become irregular.
Some women or those assigned female at birth may experience a moderate to higher flow during menstrual cycles, compared to normal periods. However, this may also be true for the opposite, whereby period flow might be less severe, or below ordinary.
Additionally, other physical external factors may influence the presence of irregular menstrual periods during premenopause. Women who smoke, have been diagnosed with obesity, or have high levels of stress are considered to be 1.7 times at higher risk of having irregular menstrual periods compared to women who don’t smoke, follow a balanced healthy diet and lifestyle, or have reduced stress.
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
During perimenopause hot flashes and night sweats may become more frequent. This is partially due to fluctuating hormonal levels, including estrogen and progesterone. The hypothalamus, the part of the brain that helps to control and regulate body heat, may experience difficulty in properly regulating body temperature.
What this means is that the body would begin to sweat, excessively, trying to regulate body heat and cool itself down. This may lead to people sweating profusely, especially during the night, or during hotter days of the year.
Hot flashes may also become more frequent and are the presence of sudden heat experienced on the face, neck, and chest. Other parts of the body may also experience some periods of elevated heat, such as the hands, feet, or between the thighs.
Vaginal Dryness and Discomfort
Estrogen is a vital hormone in the female body, especially for vaginal health and natural vaginal lubrication. As estrogen begins to decline, or production thereof fluctuates, the vagina may undergo several changes, leading to vaginal dryness and causing discomfort during sexual intercourse.
Vaginal dryness is the cause of decreased lubrication, causing the vaginal walls to become dry or thin. When a combination of this takes place, experts may refer to the condition as vaginal atrophy.
Vaginal dryness may be experienced during other times of a person’s life, such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, or the interference of other drugs and medications. Vaginal dryness may be a painful experience, as the vagina begins to have decreased lubrication, elasticity, and thickness.
Women are advised to schedule frequent visits with a medical healthcare professional, or visit an OB/GYN for analysis of vaginal dryness, or when they begin to experience discomfort around the vaginal region.
Changes in Sleep Patterns
Changes in sleep patterns are frequently observed in women who may be transitioning through perimenopause. In fact, one study has found that around 12 percent of women often experience sleep problems during perimenopause. However, as women begin to age, this number increases to more than 40 percent.
The most common, or perhaps frequently observed sleeping problems women might encounter include hot flashes, insomnia, or sleep-disordered breathing. Other things, such as psychological symptoms may impact regular sleeping patterns.
On average, research estimates that sleep disorders affect nearly 38 percent to 47 percent of perimenopausal women. For postmenopausal women, the impact is somewhat higher, with between 35 percent and 60 percent of postmenopausal women having irregular sleeping cycles.
Mood Swings and Emotional Changes
Perimenopause and the years afterward are often considered to be an emotional rollercoaster for many women. A combination of physical symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, and sleeplessness can further chip away at a person’s emotional well-being.
Aside from this, other emotional changes, such as feelings of sadness, loneliness, or elevated feelings of depression may further cause moods to constantly be in ebb and flow. This may impact a person’s daily routine, or lead to further challenging problems such as increased anxiety, which may be elevated by things such as stress or enduring sudden traumatic experiences.
Although mood swings may often form part of ordinary menstrual cycles or PMS, during perimenopause, a person might experience increased sensations of irritability, or sensitivity to things such as loud noises and bright lights.
Key Psychological and Emotional Symptoms
Physical symptoms of perimenopause are only one category of changes a person might experience during this transitory stage. The years leading up to menopause may also be marked by several key psychological and emotional challenges that can impact relationships with friends, family, or a partner.
Anxiety and Nervousness
The time spent in perimenopause may be marked by a drop in physiological estrogen levels. In one study, researchers estimate that between 15 percent and 50 percent of perimenopausal and postmenopausal women may often experience various psychological and emotional symptoms.
Feelings of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and forgetfulness, among others may be present or elevated during this time. Additionally, some psychological symptoms are often overlooked or misdiagnosed during perimenopause, seeing as some people may already have [predetermined mental health problems or have been diagnosed with anxiety.
Routine checkups with a trained professional are strongly advised for any person who may be experiencing some psychological problems or has recently endured a stressful or traumatic event.
Memory Problems and Concentration Issues
Professionals have determined that mild memory problems and concentration issues, often referred to as “brain fog” may affect those in perimenopause. More than this, mild memory lapses are a fairly common symptom of menopause, however, more severe issues of forgetfulness or memory problems should be further examined by a medical professional for potential diagnosis.
More than this, some experts from the Harvard Medical School believe that sleep disturbances that may be caused by night sweats and hot flashes could further add to cognitive issues. Additionally, stress or having to deal with a lot of changes all at once can be another possible reason for having difficulty remembering small portions of information or struggling to concentrate at work or school.
Signs of Early Menopause in Your 30s and 40s
A key difference between early and premature menopause is the time or age a person may start to experience menopause-related symptoms.
For instance, early menopause is often known as perimenopause and is considered the first of three stages of menopause, which takes place between the ages of 40 and 45 years.
Premature menopause may take place at a younger age, often before the age of 40, and is less frequent among women, with only one percent of women being affected by this.
Determining early menopause can look different for each person, however, some common symptoms are often a shared experience among many women.
Changes in Libido
Declining levels of estrogen and testosterone can make it harder for women to feel aroused during sexual foreplay or sexual intimacy. This often causes decreased sexual activity and may require additional intervention methods to help boost libido.
On top of this, vaginal dryness may further impact the sexual experience for some women, seeing as vaginal dryness can cause increased discomfort during intercourse. A lubricant may be used to help alleviate vaginal dryness or an estrogen ointment may be applied to help increase natural vaginal lubrication.
Weight Gain and Metabolism Changes
Gaining weight may be another sign of early menopause, especially in people who typically live a well-balanced, healthy, and active lifestyle. Hormone levels may change and cause women to gain weight around the abdomen, instead of their legs and hips.
Experts estimate that on average, women will gain roughly 1.5 pounds each year once they begin to enter menopause or as they approach their midlife.
Excessive weight can lead to long-term health problems, including cardiovascular disease, breathing problems, blood vessel disease, or Type 2 diabetes. Frequent exercise or physical activity is advised for women as they begin to age and move through menopausal transition.
Hair and Skin Changes
There have been some reports of women experiencing external changes to their hair and skin, which are often caused by declining estrogen levels. The effects however may be thinning or loss of hair, or a dry scalp.
Skin problems include dry and itchy skin that may look red or inflamed. This may lead women to scratch or pick at the skin, which may further cause scarring.
There are treatments, such as a topical lotion available to help alleviate dry and itchy skin, although it’s best advised to consult with a medical professional or dermatologist for further advice.
Bone Health Concerns
Several studies suggest that women may lose between 10 percent and 20 percent of bone mass during menopause. Each stage of menopause may increase the risk of bone loss, and further escalate the risk of osteoporosis.
What’s more, research further estimates that nearly one in every ten women above the age of 60 may be affected by osteoporosis worldwide, putting women at more risk compared to men.
Deteriorating bone health and loss of bone mass may put women at an increased risk of fractures or broken bones. Recovery periods for these incidents may take longer, compared to those with normal bone health and bone density.
Experts suggest that routine checkups with a medical professional are advised for all women, especially those who may have been starting to experience some menopausal symptoms or recently encountered a bone fracture.
Lifestyle Factors and Their Role in Early Menopause
Despite hormonal changes causing tremendous changes to a woman's body and mental well-being during menopause, several other external factors may also be at play.
Diet and Nutrition
Consumption of highly processed and genetically modified food is typically unhealthy at any age, however, for women who may have already started experiencing perimenopause or menopause symptoms, consumption of these foods should be kept to a minimum at most.
Oily and fatty foods may only further add to the severity of symptoms, including weight gain, blood vessel disease, or Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, healthy foods that contain high doses of vitamins and minerals, such as Omega fatty acids, calcium, and other nutrients are strongly advised for aging women.
A combination of fresh foods, including fruits and vegetables is important in any diet, and perhaps more so for women experiencing early menopause. While it might not be necessary to follow a strict diet, ensuring that you receive the necessary vitamins and minerals each day is crucial to help alleviate menopausal symptoms.
A variety of supplements are now available on the market to help women cope with the severity of early menopause and related symptoms. Each supplement is carefully formulated to address a specific issue, so women need to find a supplement that is best suited to their needs.
More than this, it’s important to remember that not all supplements sold in the U.S. are subject to safety testing by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), meaning that not all supplements may be as effective, and further consideration is required before taking any type of dietary supplement.
Exercise's Impact on Menopause Symptoms
Despite having to endure discomfort, and often painful experiences caused by menopause and menopause-related symptoms, experts recommend that physical activity may be a help to reduce menopausal symptoms and the severity thereof.
Several studies have found that regular physical activity, including mild exercise might help to reduce menopausal symptoms, and further improve well-being. More than this, moderate exercise and physical activity can help to decrease stress levels, and lower physical disorders, helping to boost general health and better social functioning.
Experts suggest that women introduce a mild to moderate exercise routine in their daily schedules. Exercise should include activities they are comfortable with, and that can help to improve general well-being. Activities such as walking, light jogging, hiking, cycling, or even gardening can be beneficial for menopausal women.
Managing Stress for Early Menopause
While there may be multiple ways to reduce stress during menopause, some of the most basic, and perhaps easiest ways to reduce stress include:
- A combination of exercise and physical activity.
- Meditation or a combination of meditative practices such as yoga or pilates.
- Getting enough sleep each night, or taking time to rest.
- Reducing workload or work-related responsibilities that might increase stress levels.
- Reduce the intake of alcohol and nicotine.
- Proper diet and the consumption of fresh produce that contains vitamins and minerals.
Seeking Help and Support
Talking about early menopause can help provide more answers to questions and potentially present solutions for specific problems that might not have been previously diagnosed or misdiagnosed.
When to Consult a Healthcare Professional
Women are advised to routinely visit a healthcare professional, including an OB/GYN to conduct general health checkups and procedures. Additionally, as women begin to age, experts suggest that a routine checkup should be beneficial to help identify any potential changes they may incur.
There is no specific time or age a person should begin to seek medical or professional healthcare assistance. Instead, routine visits are advised for any person entering midlife or who has been experiencing some irregularities with menstrual periods.
The sooner a person can determine whether or not they are entering early menopause, the better in the near term. This would help to ensure that proper guidance is provided, and that necessary treatment options can be made available.
Treatment Options for Early Menopause
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): HRT is considered one of the most common, and widely used treatment options for women in early menopause. HRT can help to replenish declining estrogen and progesterone levels, and a prescription can be provided by a medical professional.
Dietary supplements: Supplements that contain natural and organic ingredients may help to alleviate some early menopause symptoms, including symptoms such as vaginal dryness, low libido, and dry skin. Make sure to research available supplement options before purchasing an over-the-counter supplement.
Vaginal estrogen: For those suffering from vaginal dryness, a vaginal estrogen application may be available, either over the counter or with a prescription. Vaginal estrogens are typically a topical solution and may be directly applied to the vagina and the outer region, known as the vulva.
Low-dose antidepressant: Only available with a prescription, a low-dose antidepressant may help to alleviate symptoms of depression. This medication is usually only prescribed by a professional, and may not be suitable to use in conjunction with other types of medication.
Medication for osteoporosis: For women in early menopause who may be at adverse risk of osteoporosis, a healthcare provider may prescribe a specific type of medication to prevent or treat osteoporosis. This medication may only be purchased with a prescription and a thorough medical examination is required to determine the intended need.
Clonidine: Clonidine is an antihypertensive medication that helps to treat high blood pressure. Additionally, this drug may be prescribed for the treatment and alleviation of hot flashes.
Coping Strategies and Lifestyle Adjustments
- Talk to a professional: When you feel there is a need to talk to a professional, make sure to reach out to a registered healthcare professional, either an OB/GYN or a psychologist.
- Talk to people you trust: You may also want to consider talking to people you feel comfortable with and can trust. This may include either a partner or a close relative or friend that can help lighten the burden you may be experiencing.
- Join an online forum: Countless resources are now available online to help women find answers and potential treatments for menopausal symptoms. Connecting with others may help shed more light on the issue, and potentially give insight into different ways to handle early menopause.
What Is the Earliest Age for Menopause?
The earliest age at which a woman may enter menopause is between 40 and 45 years, and this is usually marked as the perimenopause stage or first stage of menopause. Premature menopause may occur before the age of 40, however, this is less likely and affects only a fraction of women across the world.
How Can I Tell if I Am Going Through Early Menopause?
Signs of hot flashes, night sweats, decreased sexual arousal or libido, irregular periods, vaginal dryness and weight gain might be signs of early menopause. Keep in mind that each person may experience different symptoms of menopause, and not all women share the same experience as they begin to transition into menopause.
Early menopause or perimenopause is a natural occurrence that most women may experience during their midlife, either between the ages of 40 and 45 years. As women begin to age and enter early menopause, certain changes may occur and are often marked by symptoms such as irregular periods, hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness, among other things.
While a person might feel helpless during early menopause, there are certain remedies and treatments available that a person can use to alleviate some of the severe symptoms. Experts suggest that women frequently visit a healthcare professional or consult with an expert on the matter.
The sooner a person can identify whether they may be experiencing early menopause, the quicker they will be able to access possible treatments and make the necessary lifestyle adjustments to suit their health and well-being needs.