Feeling overwhelmed by sudden flashes of heat or waking up in a sweat during the middle of the night? Are you skipping periods, or have noticed that your periods have become increasingly irregular? Have things such as sexual intercourse become more uncomfortable recently, or have you noticed a slight decrease in your usual sex drive?
If you feel that these are all applicable to you, then welcome to perimenopause, a transitionary period that takes place as you pass over the age threshold and leading up to menopause.
While you might already be familiar with menopause, perimenopause affects all women and is the natural process of your reproductive system, mainly your ovaries, beginning to slow down the production of new eggs and female sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
Overview of Perimenopause
Perimenopause is a natural process that occurs in the years leading up to a woman’s midlife and can result in specific changes taking place and having an impact on a woman’s quality of life.
What is Perimenopause
Experts suggest that perimenopause can be defined as a transitional process leading up to menopause, which is usually indicated by irregular menstrual periods. As ovarian function begins to decline, and the production of estrogen and progesterone slows, specific symptoms may become more prevalent during a woman's day-to-day life.
Average Age Range of Perimenopause Occurrence
Perimenopause can vary from woman to woman, however, some experts believe that the average age a woman may experience perimenopause is usually during her mid-40s. This however can be different for each woman, as some may experience perimenopausal symptoms even sooner, or slightly later in their life.
Duration of Perimenopause
According to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), the perimenopause phase can last anywhere between four to eight years. Healthcare providers usually mark the beginning of perimenopause with the changes in the length between periods, and it usually ends 12 months after a woman has her last menstrual period.
Signs of Perimenopause
Though there are a lot of changes happening during this time, the severity of each of these symptoms can be different for each woman. Nonetheless, it’s important to be aware of how perimenopausal symptoms might affect your health, and well-being and what you can do to alleviate the discomfort.
Throughout perimenopause, hormones will remain irregular and can lead to wider changes occurring throughout the body. Seeing as the reproductive system begins to slow down the production of both estrogen and progesterone, two important sex hormones needed for regulating female health, both of these will be in constant ebb and flow of one another and will result in a person experiencing varying symptoms. Other things such as the use of birth control may have an impact on the symptoms of perimenopause, including hormone changes, and can leave the body experiencing some changes.
Irregular Menstrual Cycles
One of the biggest markers of perimenopause is the frequency or rather irregular frequency of menstrual cycles. Many women notice their periods being shorter or longer, and they might experience a heavier flow during menstrual periods. Some months menstrual periods might be on time, while other months they might be skipping a period, or have a surprise period.
Take A Look At Doctor Explains Signs of Perimenopause:
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Estrogen is an important hormone that’s responsible for regulating body temperature. Without enough estrogen being produced, women tend to experience sudden flashes, which is the sudden presence of heat or warmth around the face, neck, head, chest, and arms. Other times, flashes might occur during the night, and cause a person to sweat profusely, this might cause a person’s nightwear and bedding to be drenched in sweat.
Mood Swings and Emotional Changes
Mood changes are common and can cause irritability and further lead to an increased risk of depression or anxiety during perimenopause. These occurrences could be due to the lack of sleep, experiencing flashes of heat or night sweats during the evening, or may be caused by other things such as hormonal changes.
Night sweats can cause a person to feel uncomfortable or have trouble falling asleep. This may result in a person’s normal sleep cycle being disturbed, causing a person to feel more tired than usual, and can lead to other common symptoms such as fatigue or having trouble concentrating.
Vaginal changes such as vaginal dryness or low libido can be a cause of declining estrogen levels. Estrogen is important for regulating the moisture and natural lubrication of the vaginal walls. Women might notice that over time, as estrogen levels decline, the lining of the vagina might become thinner and dryer than usual.
This can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable, even painful at times, and can cause bleeding. The use of vaginal lubricants may help alleviate the discomfort, although perimenopausal women are advised to consult with a healthcare provider or their OB/GYN for further guidance.
More than this, a decrease in vaginal lubrication may increase the risk of urinary or vaginal infections. The loss of tissue integrity and elasticity could further contribute to things such as urinary incontinence.
Changes in Libido
Something else that might continue throughout perimenopause and menopause is decreased sexual function. This may be due to lower libido, leaving a person lower sexual arousal, and may have a direct impact on a person’s intimate relationships.
Weight Gain and Metabolism Changes
Weight gain is a frequent occurrence among aging women, although this might be related to other factors such as lifestyle and genetics. During perimenopause, most women might experience a slight increase in weight around the abdomen, instead of their hips and thighs.
Hormonal changes might be considered one of the leading factors, however, it’s important to consider diet and genetics as possible influences. Women in menopause might continue gaining weight at around 1.5 pounds each year throughout their 50s, according to research by the Mayo Clinic.
Estrogen is responsible for helping to replace bone material and helps to maintain healthy bones. However, as women begin to age, they tend to lose more bone material than they can replace, and this is usually due to declining estrogen levels. Decreased bone density could lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis or the risk of frequent bone fractures.
Studies have shown that cognitive decline is a frequent occurrence among women experiencing menopausal transition. On average between 44 percent and 62 percent of women may experience cognitive decline, and have reported issues of memory problems that may be associated with perimenopause.
Skin and Hair Changes
Women naturally produce collagen, however production begins to decline during their mid to late 20s and early 30s. Researchers have found that production declines by at least 1 percent each year until women reach 40 when their collagen levels rapidly begin to decline. Important to note is that collagen helps to lock in moisture in the skin, and improves the elasticity and thickness of the skin. A decrease of collagen could further cause problems such as dry or flaky skin, or the presence of age spots, usually caused by sun exposure and a lack of SPF.
One research paper has indicated that the time many women spend in perimenopause may cause significant deleterious vascular changes. During this time, women may be at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and early disease prevention is highly recommended for both men and women.
Seeking Medical Advice
When seeking medical advice from a healthcare provider make sure to keep some of the following considerations in mind:
- Understand your symptoms and ask whether they may be treatable.
- When offered a specific treatment, ask about the short and long-term benefits and risks.
- You may want to write down some of the information provided by your healthcare provider.
- When accepting prescribed medications, ask about the symptoms of perimenopause.
- You can ask your provider about any other possible remedies or treatments.
- Understand the steps that will follow in the natural process of menopause.
- Make sure to schedule a follow-up appointment.
Tips In Dealing Common Perimenopause Symptoms Naturally
Although many women will often side with Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for alleviation of perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms, there are other natural ways in which you can reduce the discomfort of perimenopause.
Diet & Nutrition
Try to incorporate food rich in phytoestrogens, including soybeans, lentils, flaxseeds, and tofu. Researchers have found that phytoestrogens can have tremendous health benefits for women, especially those experiencing menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, and night sweats, and can help combat menstrual irregularities.
Not only is phytoestrogen beneficial, researchers have pointed out that during perimenopause, the body’s appetite for protein increases. In this case, it’s important to consider foods high in protein and to ensure that your body meets the Protein Leverage Effect without increasing the intake of other high-calorie foods.
Some supplements may help to reduce the discomfort caused by perimenopause, however, it’s important to consider using supplements that have been tested and have sufficient scientific backing to prove their effectiveness.
Sea Buckthorn Oil: According to one study of 116 postmenopausal women experiencing vaginal atrophy, the cause of vaginal dryness, sea buckthorn oil showed beneficial effects on alleviating vaginal atrophy, and improving vaginal health. This has helped researchers better understand the potential of seabuckthorn oil as an alternative for mucosal integrity for women with low estrogen and symptoms of vaginal dryness.
Black Cohosh: Several scientific studies have helped prove the efficacy of black cohosh, a natural flowering plant native to parts of North America. The plant helps to alleviate symptoms of hot flashes, night sweats and can help treat vaginal dryness. In one study, researchers found that black cohosh can be used to reduce stress, and in turn, improve sleeping patterns and reduce nervousness.
Exercise & Relaxation
Contrary to the belief that exercise may cause further discomfort, regular exercise can help increase the production of endorphins, otherwise known as “happy hormones.” In one study published in 2019, researchers found that exercise and physical activity can significantly help reduce menopausal symptoms, and is considered one of the recommended ways for women to alleviate their discomfort.
Another remedy could be relaxation techniques, including yoga, mindfulness exercises, or breathing exercises. These techniques will help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, and can further help clear your mind, reducing cognitive dysfunction, and helping you feel more concentrated either at work or during day-to-day activities.
Vitamins & Minerals
During this time, women need to incorporate essential vitamins and minerals into their diet. These include food rich in vitamin D, which helps to support and maintain bone health. Foods rich in vitamin D include leafy greens and certain fortified cereals. Not only this, but the combination with calcium-rich food may help in the long run to support healthy bones, especially in women with perimenopause.
Other vitamins including B6, B9, and B12 have been found to help alleviate some perimenopause symptoms, such as the frequency of hot flashes and night. A combination of red meat, such as beef, tuna, chickpeas, dark green vegetables, and fruits may be rich in B vitamins.
Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids may also have some benefits. Both Omega 3 and 6 are considered to be good fats and can help to provide anti-inflammatory and joint health support. Try to incorporate things such as fish oils, salmon, flaxseed, chia seeds, and a good helping of nuts into your daily diet.
What is The Typical Age for Perimenopause?
The typical age for women to experience perimenopausal transition is usually in their early to mid-40s. This however might be different for each woman, and some might begin to experience perimenopausal symptoms either in their late 30s or 40s.
What Can be Mistaken for Perimenopause?
Other conditions such as thyroid problems, feelings of depression, anxiety, or mental health conditions may often be mistaken for perimenopause.
What Are the First Signs of Perimenopause?
Symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, and irregular menstrual periods are some of the first common signs of perimenopause.
What Are the Signs that Perimenopause is Ending?
One of the only reliable ways to tell whether perimenopause may be coming to an end is the ending of infrequent menstrual periods.
Perimenopause is a natural biological process, and while there isn’t necessarily anything a person can do to stop symptoms from occurring, specific treatments may be available to help alleviate the discomfort of things like hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and mood swings. Make sure to consult with your healthcare provider once you begin to notice a frequency of irregular periods, and be sure to stay informed about the long and short changes you might experience during perimenopause.