WHAT IS PERIMENOPAUSE?
Menopause is clinically defined as a woman not having had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. Perimenopause begins several years before that.
The average age of menopause is 51, but hormonal changes can start in a woman’s 40s or even 30s. The average length of perimenopause is four years, but we’ve heard women say they suffered symptoms for a decade. The start of perimenopause is hard to pinpoint because blood tests can be inaccurate since hormone levels change often.
Perimenopausal symptoms and their severity vary greatly among women. Common symptoms include hot flashes, weight gain (especially in the stomach area), migraines, irritability, sleep issues, vaginal dryness, and mood swings.
Determining if perimenopause is the true cause of such symptoms can be tricky. Juggling work, kids, aging parents, etc. can also cause women to feel irritable, have trouble sleeping, or gain weight. It’s quite possible that these life stressors are the true catalyst for some symptoms or that the symptoms are being exacerbated by hormonal shifts.
Women should make a list of symptoms they are experiencing to discuss with their doctors, especially because these symptoms can be signs of other, more serious health concerns.
Irregular periods are normal during perimenopause but could be the result of fibroids, blood clotting issues, or cancer.
Start by keeping track of your periods and document your symptoms before, during, and after.
THE COPING STRATEGIES
There are many ways women can minimize the adverse symptoms of perimenopause. For starters, maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising at least 30 minutes almost every day (including some weight training), and avoiding smoking or drinking in excess.
Emotional and mental symptoms can also be lessened. Consider self-calming techniques such as acupuncture, meditation, or behavioral therapy. If none of these work, ask your doctor about a low-dose birth control pill to control hormonal fluctuations or an antidepressant to ease emotional issues.
Most importantly, don’t fear perimenopause and the changes that may occur.