Most women have at least a vague understanding of what menopause is.
Most of us know that it is the transitional stage where your periods stop, and that it is associated with a whole host of well-documented symptoms – from hot flushes to mood swings.
Menopause is usually confirmed when a woman has missed her period for 12 consecutive months (with no other obvious causes), and it tends to happen around the age of 50.
However, perimenopause is something that doesn’t get the same kind of coverage, and as a result, far too many people are shocked, confused or unprepared when they start to experience the symptoms.
Many women experience changes to their body years before their final period.
The time leading up to the menopause is called the perimenopause. This stage may last for months, years or it may happen quickly.
The North American Menopause Society says this stage can last up to eight years for some women.
Part of the reason why perimenopause is rather tricky to define is because it’s such a different experience for every woman. There is no set time period for it happen, or no set collection of symptoms that every person will go through.
Many women report no physical changes during perimenopause, except irregular periods that stop when menopause is reached. Other women experience symptoms of hot flushes, night sweats, and thinning and drying of vaginal tissue that can make sex painful.
Despite the fact that half of the population will go through perimenopause and menopause if they reach that age, the conditions are still widely misunderstood and many women don’t know where to turn for help and support.
According to a study by Avon, half of UK women (51%) were unaware of perimenopause until they started to have symptoms.
The study of more than 1,000 women aged 45-65 also found that 41% rely on unsubstantiated online resources above GPs, gynaecologists, and friends. And, despite perimenopause often following maternal patterns, only 15% of UK women would discuss the matter with their mum.
A quarter of UK women said they feel uncomfortable or very uncomfortable discussing menopause with their partner. And, perhaps even more surprising, is the fact almost as many (13%) felt uncomfortable or very uncomfortable discussing the topic with their friends.
Symptoms of perimenopause
- Hot flushes are the most common menopause-related discomfort. They’re often described as a sudden feeling of heat that seems to come from nowhere and spreads throughout the body. You might also experience sweating, palpitations and flushing of the face.
- Night sweats are hot flashes at night that interfere with sleep. Night sweats are when you sweat so much that your night clothes and bedding are soaking wet, even though where you’re sleeping is cool.
- The drop in estrogen around menopause leads to vaginal dryness. It can cause a feeling of vaginal tightness during sex along with pain, burning, or soreness.
What to expect during perimenopause and menopause
About eight in every 10 women will have additional symptoms for some time before and after their periods stop. These can have a significant impact on daily life for some women.
Common symptoms – other than the ones above – include:
- Difficulty sleeping – this may make you feel tired and irritable during the day
- Reduced sex drive (libido)
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Mood changes, such as low mood or anxiety
- Palpitations – heartbeats that suddenly become more noticeable
- Joint stiffness, aches and pains
- Reduced muscle mass
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
See your GP if you’re struggling with your symptoms, as treatments are available.
What age can perimenopause start?
Perimenopause can begin in some women in their 30s, but most often it starts in women in their early or mid 40s.
In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51, and perimenopause can start years or months before that. It is different for everybody, but if you are having symptoms that you suspect could be related to perimenopause, speak to your GP, because their are treatments that help.
How to tell the difference between perimenopause and menopause
The two terms are really just the names of different stages of the same process, so there will likely be some crossover in terms of symptoms and what you experience in both stages.
However, perimenopause is the first stage in the process and can start years before you actually hit menopause. Menopause is the point when you no longer have menstrual periods for at least 12 months.
Perimenopause is marked by a drop in estrogen. Your estrogen levels can also go up and down more sporadically than they do in a typical 28-day cycle. This can cause irregular periods and other symptoms.
During the final stages of perimenopause, your body will produce less and less estrogen. But despite the drop in estrogen, it’s still possible to get pregnant during this stage.
Postmenopause is the stage after menopause.
‘Much more needs to be done to explain the stages of menopause and eliminate that element of shock,’ says Dr Sarah Jarvis, a GP with a special interest in women’s health.
‘I see it all the time in my surgery – women think menopause is something that happens in their fifties, whereas most often they start to experience symptoms far earlier with the little-communicated phase, perimenopause.
‘The hormonal shifts can have a major impact on mood and how we feel about ourselves. They can disrupt sleep and concentration and affect your weight, skin, hair and energy levels. This can be confusing and worrying for women and their loved ones.
‘Knowing what’s happening is the first step in managing those symptoms and navigating this natural process with lessened impact.’
Credit: Original article published here.