Feeling sluggish? Reduced sex drive? Irregular or missed periods? It’s not your busy lifestyle taking a toll on you -- it may be perimenopause. Before women experience the “Big Change,” they often report feeling a million little changes related to the gradual decrease in hormones as they taper off before menopause.
At Moreland OB-GYN, we focus on building strong relationships with our patients. If you’re struggling with occasional signs and symptoms commonly associated with women as they approach menopause, here is an overview and some helpful tips for you to consider.
What is Perimenopause?
As the amount of estrogen produced by the ovaries begins to decrease with age, women begin experiencing signs and symptoms resembling menopause. But, unless you have gone 12 months without having your period, you’re not technically in menopause.
Perimenopause, also known as “menopause transition”, actually begins several years before menopause.
During this time, early perimenopause symptoms can start to become noticeable, even so, the ovaries are still producing sufficient levels of estrogen and releasing eggs. However, in the final few years of perimenopause, estrogen levels drop significantly, finalizing the transition to menopause.
How Long Does Perimenopause Last?
Perimenopause usually begins in a woman’s 40s, but this transition can begin in the late 30s or even earlier. While the average length of perimenopause is four years, some women report this phase lasting for only a few months, while others find it lasts much longer, up to 10 years.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Perimenopause?
The most common signal of perimenopause is a change in your overall menstrual cycle. Some women report longer-than-normal cycles, while others report that their cycles have become shorter. During this time, you may even begin to skip periods and your menstrual flow may become lighter or heavier.
However, you may want to talk to a perimenopause doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Your periods are very heavy or they include blood clots
- Your periods last much longer than usual
- You experience spotting either between periods or after sex
- Your periods happen closer together
Other common signs and symptoms associated with perimenopause include:
- Hot Flashes. A sudden sensation of heat that rushes to your upper body and face that lasts anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes or longer. Some women experience hot flashes a few times each month, while others have them several times each day. Hot flashes that occur at night, also called “night sweats,” may even wake you up at night and prevent you from falling back to sleep.
- Difficulty Sleeping. In addition to the possibility of waking up at night from hot flashes, some women experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep through the night.
- Mood Swings and More Intense Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Fluctuations in hormones cause many women to experience stronger and more frequent mood swings. You may also experience more intense PMS, even if you haven’t previously been affected by it.
- Vaginal Dryness and/or Discomfort During Sex. As estrogen levels decrease, the lining of the vagina often becomes thinner, dryer and less elastic, all of which can cause pain during sex.
- Urinary Tract Changes. Changing hormone levels often contribute to urine leakage when coughing or sneezing, and can cause the urethra to become dry, inflamed or irritated. This often causes a more frequent and urgent need to urinate, which can increase the risk of urinary tract infections.
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How Do I Know if I Am Perimenopausal?
If you are experiencing signs and symptoms of perimenopause, your perimenopause specialist can often make a diagnosis based on them alone.
Is There Anything I Can Do to Alleviate the Symptoms?
There are a variety of treatment options available to women who are experiencing perimenopause, including low-dose birth control pills, birth control skin patches, vaginal rings or supplemental estrogen. However, some women cannot use birth control hormones to alleviate symptoms, so it’s important to talk to your doctor to see what’s right for you.
Focusing on activities that enhance your overall health have also been reported to lessen these symptoms.
Here are a few things you can do:
- Beginning or continuing an exercise program
- Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting enough sleep at night, preferably going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day
- Take a multivitamin or vitamins for perimenopause, and make sure you’re getting enough calcium
- Smoking cessation
- Stress management
- Alcohol intake reduction
We understand how easy it can be for women to simply brush off the signs of perimenopause as the result of being busy and under stress, but there are many options available to help alleviate the symptoms and help you get the most out of life.
We’re happy to answer any questions that you have and deliver a personalized care plan tailored specifically to your needs.
At Moreland OB-GYN, we specialize in women’s preventive health care and prioritizing the needs of our patients. We hope you’ll connect with us to help answer your questions and we hope you’ll turn to our experts as a trusted resource for information.