Perimenopause is a life stage leading up to menopause – the natural end of menstruation. It’s a transitional state as your body goes from child-producing years to a vibrant, knowledgeable goddess! (Fun fact – killer whales become leaders in their pods only AFTER they reach menopause). It only makes sense – they’ve lived, learned, and know where all the good fish spots are!
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is a period of transition in a woman’s life. Peri means around or near in Greek, meaning the beginning of menopause. The stage can last months or years and officially ends one year after your last period. The average duration for most women is 3-4 years.
Many women start to see symptoms in their 40s, while others may begin in their early 30s. Medical menopause can also be brought on suddenly by treatments such as chemotherapy.
What happens during menopause?
During reproductive years, the amount of estrogen in our bodies rises and falls in a reasonably predictable manner throughout our menstrual cycles.
Two hormones – follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) control estrogen levels. FSH stimulates follicles in the ovaries to produce estrogen. Once estrogen levels reach a certain level, your body shuts down the FSH and has a surge of LH. This stimulates the ovaries to release an egg, and the remaining follicles produce progesterone to prep for pregnancy. As progesterone rises, levels of FSH and LH drop. Menstruation occurs if you don’t get pregnant, and the cycle starts over.
During perimenopause, our bodies prepare for the end of our fertile years. We release fewer eggs, produce less estrogen, and our cycles are much more erratic.
Signs of perimenopause:
- Hot flashes and night sweats. Many women (35-50%) suffer from heat waves, sweating and flushing. These hot flashes usually last only a few minutes, ranging from mild warmth to breaking out in a sweat.
- Vaginal dryness. Dropping estrogen levels can cause vaginal tissue to become thinner and drier, causing itching, irritation, and a decline in sexual desire.
- Heavy and irregular periods. The uterine lining may thicken before it sheds because of less progesterone, causing heavier periods.
- Interrupted sleep. Many women have sleep problems during perimenopause. A few factors are at play, including night sweats and increased anxiety levels.
- Mood changes. You may be at an increased risk of mood swings, irritability, or depression during perimenopause.
- Thinning hair and dry skin. Estrogen helps skin and hair retain moisture. It also signals our bodies to make collagen, which helps plump and firm skin. As estrogen levels drop, our bodies produce less collagen, leading to thinner hair and drier skin.
Depending on the severity of symptoms, some women seek treatment to help ease problems. If you are struggling with symptoms, reach out to your doctor. Just because perimenopause is a natural life stage doesn’t mean you have to suffer! Whether you talk to your family doctor, a naturopathic doctor, or a therapist, help and support are available to make this as easy a transition as possible.
If this resonates with you, you may also enjoy 10 Things to Look Forward to in Midlife!