As we approach middle-age, we are bound to face many changes, from failing eyesight and joint pain to major health problems. Everyone is different and will have different changes. However, there is one aspect of aging that all women must face at some point, menopause.
I remember the first time my body entered “the change of life”. I was in my mid-forties and had a menstural cycle that functioned like clockwork. I missed my monthly period, and automatically thought I was pregnant, as many women do, I suspect. After a few months of erratic cycles, and taking multiple pregnancy tests, it was obvious what was happening: I had entered perimenopause.
Whether you’re 40 or 60 when you enter perimenopause, this time of change is often very confusing and emotional for women. I am therefore, very happy to present this article written by a GUEST AUTHOR, on what to expect when you enter this erratic and emotional time of life.
Perimenopause is the transitional phase leading up to your final menstrual cycle. During this time, your body stops producing as much estrogen and progesterone, making you less fertile and throwing your hormones off balance. It’s a natural process that can, unfortunately, have physical and emotional effects on your wellbeing.
Most women begin to experience perimenopausal symptoms in their 40s. However, it’s not uncommon for some women to notice symptoms earlier or later. Perimenopause typically lasts four to eight years and ends when you reach menopause, the point at which your ovaries stop releasing eggs.
For many, this time can be embarrassing, frustrating, or confusing. However, recognizing the signs of perimenopause can help you feel more comfortable and prepared as you reach this stage of life. Though symptoms, as well as their frequency and intensity, may vary from one woman to the next, knowing what to expect is the best way to be proactive on your menopause journey.
1. Irregular Periods
A disrupted menstrual cycle is typically the first indicator of perimenopause. As you enter perimenopause, you should expect changes to the duration, heaviness, and frequency of your flow. For instance, you may notice spotting, irregular periods, or that your flow is heavier or lighter than usual.
You know you’ve reached menopause when you’ve gone a full year without your period. Until then, you may want to consider using birth control during perimenopause, as it can help regulate your cycle, prevent bone loss, and mitigate your risk of developing ovarian and uterine cancers.
If you are in your 40s or 50s and still get your period, you are also at risk of getting pregnant. Switching to lower-dose or combination birth control pills may help prevent unplanned pregnancy in addition to the previously mentioned benefits. Talk to your doctor about contraceptive methods to determine the best option for you at this stage.
2. Hot Flashes
Hot flashes are sudden feelings of intense heat that may occur as a result of hormone imbalances. They can last anywhere between 30 seconds and 10 minutes and are characterized by discomfort, sweating, and redness to your chest, neck, and face. You may also experience hot flashes at night in the form of night sweats, which can disrupt your sleep pattern.
Lower estrogen levels may throw off your internal thermostat, triggering hot flashes. According to the North American Menopause Society, as many as 75% of North American women experience hot flashes during perimenopause, though the frequency and intensity may vary.
To improve or prevent hot flashes, consider limiting your caffeine and alcohol intake, which can worsen menopausal symptoms. In addition, dress in layers, and practice deep breathing, so you can react as soon as you begin to feel overheated. Hormone treatments may also help to alleviate hot flashes, but you should always consult your doctor before trying a new medication.
3. Low Sex Drive
Lower estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels, as well as stress, aging, and mood disorders can cause your sex drive to plummet. A decrease in estrogen can also cause vaginal dryness, which can make sex uncomfortable and even painful. Consequently, many women entering perimenopause experience low libido.
Though not all women experience a lower sex drive, tanking libido can be unsettling for perimenopausal women and potentially lead to stress, low self-esteem, and relationship issues. Luckily, there are many ways you can maintain and improve your sex drive during this confusing time.
To increase comfort, consider practicing kegel exercises to improve blood flow and relax your pelvic muscles. It’s also smart to use lubricants or moisturizers whenever physically intimate to alleviate vaginal dryness. In addition, maintaining open and honest dialogue with your partner can help boost your sex drive and avoid any miscommunication (Remember: Even when you’re not up to having sex, you can still enjoy each other’s company).
4. Mood Swings
Fluctuating hormone levels can throw your body for a loop. As your body attempts to adjust to hormonal changes, it’s not uncommon to experience more mood swings than normal. Women who faced severe PMS earlier in life are especially susceptible to greater irritability and mood swings during perimenopause.
Approximately 70% of women cite irritability as their primary mood complaint during perimenopause, which can lead to impatience, unsettledness, and mental fogginess. Some women experience increased emotional sensitivity while others struggle to hold their train of thought. While these emotional reactions may be humorous at times, they can also be embarrassing and troubling.
Fortunately, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help cope with mental changes during perimenopause. For instance, you can incorporate meditation and yoga into your routine to feel more grounded and reduce irritability. Poor sleep habits, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet can also cause irritability, so it’s important to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get adequate sleep, as well.
Even though these symptoms are common among perimenopausal women, you should always address any abnormalities with your OB/GYN. Carefully tracking and tending to bodily changes will help ensure you are healthy through the transition.
Perimenopause can be uncomfortable and confusing, but it’s good to know you’re not alone in your experience. Perimenopause is a normal and natural process that simply indicates your body is preparing itself for the next stage of your life.