A woman’s reproductive cycle is a journey of milestones, often dictated by hormones. Perimenopause occurs around the time we begin to make a transition into menopause. The term perimenopause translates to mean “around menopause.” Menopause marks the end of menstruation and reproductive years in women. There is not a specific perimenopause age that experts can pinpoint, but most women make the transition into perimenopause as early as their mid-30s to their late 40s.
What Happens During Perimenopause?
The main driver for the entry into perimenopause is the shifts in estrogen hormone levels. As women make their transition through perimenopause, estrogen levels rise and fall. Also, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) lose the capacity to regulate estrogen. A common side effect of these fluctuations includes sleep problems, irregular menstrual cycles, mood swings, and dreaded hot flashes.
After you cease to have a period for greater than 12 months, a visit to your doctor or nurse practitioner will be required to make the diagnosis of menopause.
What Happens During Menopause?
Unlike the fluctuation of estrogen levels that occur during perimenopause, a woman’s ovaries stop producing adequate levels of estrogen, contributing to the cessation or stoppage of egg release by the ovaries.
After you cease to have a period for greater than 12 months, a visit to your doctor or nurse practitioner will be required to make the diagnosis of menopause. In addition to verifying that you have not experienced a menstrual cycle for the last year, there are additional steps your provider may take to officially diagnose you as being menopausal. For example, he/she may conduct a physical examination by evaluating your uterine lining or availability of eggs, and they can collect a blood specimen to measure your hormone levels.
Menopause and perimenopause have similar symptoms.
Common perimenopause symptoms may include but not be limited to one or more of the following:
- Fertility changes (difficulty conceiving)
- Weight gain
- Changes in bone structure
- Changes to hair texture or thickness
- Muscle pain
- Tender breasts
- Loss of sex drive
- Problems with concentration and being forgetful
- Increase in Urinary and Vaginal Infections
Signs and symptoms of Menopause
Common signs and symptoms of menopause begin to emerge as estrogen levels decrease. Every woman will not experience the same symptoms of menopause. Also, some menopause symptoms may make an appearance during the perimenopause phase.
Menopause signs may include but are not limited to the following:
- Mood swings (including depression, sadness, anxiety)
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Poor sleep experiences or insomnia
- Loss of bone mass
- Increase in cholesterol levels
When to Visit Your Doctor
While the symptoms of peri/menopause may be tolerable, and you may not need to see your physician solely because of minor changes in your menstrual cycle, if your symptoms become intolerable or so severe that they are affecting your quality of life and physical or mental well-being, it may be time to seek the help of a healthcare professional.
Some women may not require any treatments, while others may receive hormonal therapy treatments via low-dose hormone therapy or oral contraceptives. It is important to note that hormone therapy is controversial because of the side effects it can cause in women, which include heart disease, blood clots, breast cancer and stroke.*
Many women opt for the use of natural remedies and other alternative approaches to managing perimenopause and menopause symptoms. Perimenopause diets are particularly useful for women who are actively navigating the perimenopause phase. For example, women often boost their calcium and vitamin D intake via foods and supplements to combat the loss of bone mass. Others may enhance their exercise regimen to combat weight gain. Also, they may increase the foods in their diet that contain phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens can mimic estrogen in the body, helping to replace the loss of estrogen, and therefore helping to minimize common side effects. Other options include herbal remedies that can help improve sleep and treat the severity and frequency of hot flashes.
*DISCLAIMER:This post is in no way intended to be diagnostic, or to provide medical advice, and is strictly informative. Please consult with a physician if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms.
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