Perimenopause – Early Stages of Menopause
Perimenopause is also known as premenopause and early menopause – it is the time period where a woman’s body moves from fertility into infertility. Perimenopause can differ greatly in duration, with some women experiencing it for only a few months, and others being in this period for up to 10 years. The average length is around 4 years, and perimenopause officially moves into menopause after an entire year has passed without a period.
During the perimenopausal period, a woman’s ovaries produce less and less estrogen, with a sharp drop towards the end of the perimenopausal period. This is in preparation for your body to stop producing eggs and becoming infertile; however, during perimenopause, it is still possible for a woman to become pregnant. While it reduces fertility and thus the chance of becoming pregnant, perimenopausal women are still producing eggs during their monthly cycles – if they want to avoid pregnancy, birth control measures should be taken, and if they wish to become pregnant, they should seek out means to increase fertility.
Perimenopause is a natural transition that women go through with age. The age that perimenopause begins will vary from woman to woman, with it usually beginning sometime in the mid-40s. Some women will experience it in the mid to late 30s, while others will experience it later.
Some conditions may bring about early perimenopause. Having low estrogen levels may increase the chance of starting perimenopause sooner. Regularly smoking tends to bring perimenopause on a year or two earlier than you normally would, as well.
If early menopause runs in your family, then your chances of beginning perimenopause earlier than usual are increased.
Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments may also bring menopause on sooner than normal.
A hysterectomy that leaves the ovaries but removes the uterus may increase the chances of entering menopause early, though it will usually leave your ovaries still producing estrogen at a regular rate.
Typically, perimenopause can be identified with symptoms, especially when women are around the age when perimenopause typically begins.
Blood tests may also help in identifying the presence of perimenopause, but because hormone levels change radically and rapidly during this period, it is advised to get several blood tests at different times to effectively measure these changes to properly identify this condition.
Perimenopause occurs at the stage between normal fertility and menopause, and as such, the symptoms of it can include both the symptoms of PMS in addition to some symptoms of menopause. These symptoms include:
- Hot flashes
- Breast tenderness
- Worse premenstrual syndrome
- Lower sex drive
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness; discomfort during sex
- Urine leakage when coughing or sneezing
- Urinary urgency (an urgent need to urinate more frequently)
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping or insomnia
- Irregular Periods
- Heavy Bleeding
- Hair Loss
- Weight Gain
- Dry Eyes
- Vaginal changes
- Memory Loss
When going through perimenopause, there are some things you can do to seek relief from some of the more painful, unpleasant symptoms. Some things can be done on your own while others will require the help of a medical professional.
Some things you can do on your own that may help relieve the painful symptoms of perimenopause include:
- Start a healthy exercise routine
- Stop smoking
- Try to get more sleep, and try to keep a routine sleep cycle
- Stop drinking, or drink less, alcohol
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Increase your calcium intake
Other methods of relieving perimenopausal symptoms involve seeking out help from a medical professional. Some of the options include:
Hormone therapy allows a doctor to measure the levels of your hormones and administer doses of them to help balance out the hormones within your body. When going through perimenopause, your hormone levels will vary widely, both from perimenopause itself, and the stress and lifestyle changes that tend to come along with it. Undergoing regular hormone therapy allows a doctor to closely monitor your levels and prescribe doses of hormones to help bring your hormones into balance.
The hormone estrogen can be applied directly to the vagina using cream, a ring, or a tablet. This tends to deliver smaller amounts of estrogen to reduce the risks to you, while helping to relieve discomfort in the vagina caused by dryness. It may also reduce sexual discomfort and address some urinary symptoms.
Certain antidepressants related to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may offer some relief from hot flashes. While taking estrogen may be more effective at treating hot flashes, antidepressants may be a good alternative for women who can’t take estrogen for health reasons. Additionally, some women may benefit from antidepressants for treating their mood, in addition to hot flash relief.
Gabapentin is normally used for treating seizures, but it may also provide some relief from hot flashes. While also not as potent as estrogen in treating hot flashes, it is also a good alternative for women who cannot take estrogen for other health reasons. It may also help women who suffer from migraines.
Keep in mind – while all of these options may help relieve symptoms, they may also involve some risks as well. Always speak with your doctor before undergoing any of these treatments and way if the benefits are enough to support the possible risks.