Perimenopause: The Rehearsal for Menopause

Many find themselves experiencing the “change of life,” with symptoms of irregular periods, feeling as though your face is on fire and nights of interrupted sleep or even insomnia. You may think you are going through menopause.

Chances are, however, if you are between the ages of 45-55 years old, you are experiencing what is medically referred to as perimenopause. Researchers at the University of Virginia Health System contend that perimenopause is even known to begin when a woman is in her thirties.

Although menopause and perimenopause do share many of the same symptoms, menopause is usually diagnosed when a woman has ceased having her period for 12 months. Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause when your body starts making less hormones (estrogen and progesterone), and these hormones fluctuate more.

In addition, the ability to get pregnant decreases, according to Mayo Clinic, because you do not ovulate during an increasing number of your cycles. As with menopausal symptoms, perimenopausal symptoms can wreak havoc on your body. For some, the symptoms are more severe than others.

For many women, the symptoms of perimenopause began to creep in during their mid-forties. Periods become irregular. You have a menstrual period and, two weeks later, another follows. Or, some women skip a cycle all together.

Even the blood flow can become a big challenge. Extremely heavy periods are another common symptom of perimenopause.

To add fuel to the fire, a woman can feel like an emotional maniac whenever she does get her period. Some women report emotional swings from one emotion and mood to another in a matter of seconds. To top off feeling very irritable, you can experience sleepless nights as well.

The symptoms described above, which take such a huge toll on your body, are only a few of the items on the perimenopause list, which includes:

  1. lighter periods.
  2. night sweats ( hot flashes while you sleep).
  3. vaginal dryness.
  4. pain during sex.
  5. more urinary tract infections.
  6. urinary incontinence.
  7. decreased libido.
  8. increase in body fat around your waist.
  9. problems with concentration and memory.

You should take these symptoms seriously and consult your doctor, especially if they interfere with your life to a great degree.

If you go to a doctor and they insinuate or suggest to you in any way that these problems are all “in your head,” you are not at the right place. Although most doctors today are keenly aware of perimenopause, some women report this still occurs. According to Marcelle Pick, doctor of obstetrics at WomentoWomen.com, “Even today, women who are struggling with hormonal imbalance are frequently sent home with a prescription for ‘antidepressants,’ rather than being offered real solutions for a real condition.” Dr. Pick emphasizes finding a doctor who takes your condition seriously and is empathetic and caring.

The most common treatment for perimenopausal symptoms is low dose oral contraceptives. These low dose birth control pills often contain estrogen and/or progesterone and seem to stabilize the fluctuating release of hormones that occur during perimenopause. The only women who should not take low dose birth control pills are women above the age of 35 who smoke. The risk for these women can be blood clots.

On a personal note, I finally decided to seek medical help after suffering for two years or so with my symptoms. I reported my symptoms to my doctor, and based on my history and age, he made the diagnosis of “perimenopause.” He prescribed a low dose birth control pill. The difference was like night and day. I now feel so much better! I sleep better, my menstrual cycles are predictable with normal flow, and I no longer feel like a lunatic around my period.

In addition to medical intervention, The Mayo Clinic states there are many effective self-care practices for perimenopausal women to practice.

Here are three suggestions:

  1. Stress reduction techniques such as meditation or yoga can promote relaxation, which is always good for general health, but can be particularly helpful during the stage of perimenopause.
  2. Regular exercise improves your mood and improves sleep. It also prevents weight gain, which can occur during perimenopause.
  3. Good nutrition. Eating a low fat diet, high in fiber, calcium, and rich with fruits and vegetables can also help during perimenopause. It is important for women at this time, and as they age, to keep their hearts and bones strong. It is also important to maintain a healthy weight.

Perimenopause can be difficult, but the good news is it is very treatable. In the world of theater, rehearsals are often more difficult than the actual show. If perimenopause is the “rehearsal” for menopause, then when menopause does come along, you will know all of the lines!

For more information on perimenopause, visit healthsystem.virginia.edu , womentowomen.com, mayoclinic.com

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