Did your parents, teachers, or health care providers prepare you for perimenopause? If you’re lucky to have had preparation from parents, etc., congratulations. You are a part of the minority. If you didn’t? I’m with you. We’re in the majority. You would think that such an important transition/right of passage, accompanied by so many physical and psychological changes, would be top of mind for open discussion and conversation amongst women, health care partners and the health care system. Nope. Instead, it’s still largely tabooed and shrouded in secrecy. Keep in mind, many perimenopause and menopause symptoms often overlap.
My Perimenopaue Experience
I began experiencing perimenopausal symptoms at thirty-eight. I still have a period, so I’ve still got some ways to go to menopause.
Lucky for me, I learned about perimenopause early on and began observing. I was a biological science major, science and health lover, and always perusing health, women’s health, and science books. So when a few symptoms presented themselves in my thirty-eight year, I recognized them immediately.
After the onset of the first set of symptoms at thirty-eight, I took the initiative and began asking older females, family, friends, healthcare partners, professionals, teachers, etc., about their personal experiences and or knowledge of the topic. Note. No one volunteered information, not even my primary care physician and gynecologist.
Knowing what I knew then, I decided I would not suffer in silence. Better yet, I didn’t want to suffer at all. So arming myself with knowledge was my way to ensure ease and minimal suffering through this rite of passage. Ask, and you shall receive. It’s what I did.
Once I asked, the flood gates opened up. I got all sorts of answers and learned how drastically different the process is from one woman to the next. And I’m still asking questions because I’m still experiencing perimenopause. However, I feel ready and resourced for when menopause and post-menopause sets in. I’m am now armed with first-hand information from menopausal women and knowledge from health professionals about the possibilities. I know what I need to do and not do to optimize my wellbeing.
Why the Secrecy?
It baffles me that medical professionals and educators know about these terms and their effects, but they have kept a tight lid on them for whatever reasons. Bureaucracy, I suppose. Perhaps control. Take your pick. I don’t know. It’s as though talking about them would lead to some catastrophic event.
The only process I could think about that’s associated with those two words is natural aging, and there’s nothing catastrophic about that. In any event, generally, perimenopause/menopause seemed to be taboo to talk about. That said, I am seeing progress, and the great news is that women and health care professionals are now communicating more openly about both perimenopause and menopause. And look at that, nothing catastrophic is happening.
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause can begin as early as the mid-thirties. It is the period leading up the menopause. It’s safe to say that once you’ve not had a period for twelve months, you’re in menopause. Additionally, elective surgery and premature ovarian failure/primary ovarian insufficiency also puts the body into menopause. Post-menopause is every day after that, for the rest of your life. During this time, sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, FSH, and LH begin to decline.
Experts say, typically, perimenopause can last for about four years. But that’s just the average. It can last as long as fourteen years. Length of time varies from person to the next, and environment and heredity also play a part in how long it lasts. I have been going through perimenopause for fourteen years. I also know someone who’s been experiencing it since their mid-thirties.
14 Symptoms Associated Perimenopause
- Hormone fluctuations – hormones like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, FSH and LH begin to decline. Ask your Dr. to check your levels. And don’t let them tell you, you don’t need to know. It helps to know your levels so you can know where to focus your attention and obtain the appropriate support.
- Inconsistent period duration – sometimes a period may last for three days and sometimes six days. You just never know how many. Go with the flow. No pun intended.
- Missed periods – inconsistent ovulation leads to missed periods. You can miss a period for one, two or even six and nine months, then It’ll pop up again.
- Night sweats/hot flashes – One minute you’ll be sitting pretty or sleeping soundly, and all of a sudden an internal heat takes over and your body feels like it’s in front of an oven. And just as fast as it starts, it may be over. Here’s why that happens. As estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and even cortisone levels fall, changes in the body temperature occur.
- Insomnia – the inability to sleep due to night sweats or stress associated with declining estrogen and hormone fluctuation.
- Changes in blood-cholesterol levels – Cholesterol levels tend to increase during this time. Be mindful, your HDL’s (good cholesterol) may decrease and your LDL (bad cholesterol) may increase. Be sure to have your levels checked regularly. Sticking to a healthy diet that includes, fruits, vegetables and void or low of processed foods and moderate exercise will support healthy levels.
- Low sex drive – This may perhaps suck for you, or not. But low libido is likely for some women as estrogen levels fluctuate.
- Vaginal dryness – Low estrogen levels leads to dryness in the vaginal walls, which can cause painful sex. Dryness also occurs in the Libia area and can lead to itching. Don’t scratch. Use oils to lubricate and moisturize.
- Urinary incontinence – decreased levels of estrogen can lead to thinning of the urethra’s lining and also weaken the pelvic muscles. So a sneeze, fit of laughter or cough can cause a bit of tinkle for some women during perimenopause.
- Bone loss – Women are at risk of losing some bone mass during perimenopause. So be sure to consume a diet that supports your calcium intake.
- Decreased fertility – as estrogen, progesterone and other hormone levels decrease, so does ovulation, which is unpredictable. In addition, the quality of eggs decreases making it more difficult for conception to occur naturally for some women. Note. Pregnancy is still absolutely possible during perimenopause. In fact, many women don’t need the help of fertility specailists. If you still have plans of becoming pregnant, don’t be scared. Go for it. And if you need a fertility specialist, get one and get the ball rolling.
- Mood swings/Brain fog – a drop in estrogen can affect the action of serotonin, and norephenerine. It can lead to mood swing, depression, etc. All of which can cause sleep loss, which in turn can lead to brain fog.
- Dry skin – estrogen decline causes the skin to lose it’s ability to produce and retain moisture, leading to dry and itchy skin, and also wrinkles and fine lines.
- Hair loss – progesterone and estrogen are responsible for hair growth and health. As they decline, hair gets thinner and grow less. Androgens are also responsible for hair loss. They are always present, but their effects are more pronounced with the decline of the dominant female hormones.
Are you perimenopausing? If yes, where are you on your journey? My recommendation is to put together a support team/community made up of peers, family, elders, doctors (both functional and western), therapists/counselors. Make sure these are people you feel safe with and can trust and turn to for support.