Hot flashes. Mood swings. Decreased libido. You remember your mother talking about the change, but is it really happening to YOU?
If you’re in your forties, it’s fairly likely that what you’re experiencing is actually perimenopause, or what some physicians refer to as “the change before the change.” Perimenopause is the time prior to menopause, when shifts in hormone levels begin to affect ovulation and menstruation. It can begin as early as your thirties and can last as long as ten years, according to the American Congress of Obstetrician and Gynecologists (ACOG). However, for most women perimenopause begins in the forties.
Symptoms You May Experience
Sometimes, especially early on, the symptoms of perimenopause are so subtle that many women don’t notice them. For others, symptoms quickly become so troublesome that a visit to the doctor is in order.
Here are some common symptoms of perimenopause that you may experience ( Adapted from the Mayo Clinic):.
Irregular periods: As you enter this time of hormonal shifts, you may find your periods become less regular, that your flow varies and that you even begin skipping periods. If you start seeing cycle variations of seven days or more, you are probably in early perimenopause. If longer gaps (60 days or more) occur between periods, you are likely in late perimenopause.
Hot flashes and night sweats: As many a mother or grandmother can attest, hot flashes can be downright uncomfortable, particularly at night when they disrupt sleep and even cause insomnia. As many as 75 percent of women will experience hot flashes in varying degrees of intensity and duration; for some women, hot flashes persist post-menopause.
Mood shifts: Some women experience depression, mood swings or irritability during this life phase. Mayo Clinic postulates this could be the result of sleep disruptions and / or other life factors, such as stress. Other evidence suggests that fluctuating hormone levels bear the blame.
Changes in sexual function and desire: Some women experience vaginal dryness, declines in desire or even decreased sexual responsivity. While all of these symptoms can have multiple causes, declining levels of estrogen in the body may be to blame. As estrogen levels drop, vaginal tissues lose lubrication and elasticity, making intercourse less pleasurable and even, for some women, painful.
Health profile changes
Other health changes may occur during perimenopause, albeit more silently. These changes can affect your long-term health and well being. Here are some to watch out for:
Decreased fertility: As hormones shift, ovulation becomes irregular and achieving pregnancy naturally becomes less and less likely with each passing year. Because it is still possible to get pregnant during perimenopause, however, your physician will likely recommend birth control if you have completed your family.
Bone loss: As estrogen levels decline in perimenopause, women begin losing bone mass more quickly than it can be replaced. This is why the risk of osteoporosis grows with age and with the onset of menopause.
Changes in cholesterol: As women enter perimenopause and estrogen levels decline, they lose yet another protective effect of estrogen and many women may begin to see unfavorable changes in blood cholesterol. These may include rising levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and decreasing levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol).
If you are concerned that you may be experiencing negative changes in your health status, or if any of the above signs and symptoms are troubling you, please call for an appointment today.
Your South Lake team can offer effective interventions for your perimenopause symptoms, as well as general health advice for your changing body. Please call for an appointment and let us help you manage this “change before the change” as happily, and healthfully, as possible.