So what is perimenopause?
What kinds of symptoms are common—or even possible—and what do they mean? If you have to listen to your body in order to understand its condition and needs, how do you interpret the messages of perimenopausal symptoms? And how do you know if your symptoms are related to perimenopause or some other part of the aging process?
First, it’s important to understand that, if you think it may be perimenopause, it probably is. No one is more familiar than you are with your body’s feelings and reactions during your monthly cycles. As the following sections demonstrate, women have reported a wide variety of symptoms during and after perimenopause. Remember, some women experience no symptoms at all.
It’s also important to keep in mind that everyone can expect to experience some physical and mental signs of aging. As women age, many of their physical changes are triggered or exacerbated by hormonal fluctuations. The good news is, any overt symptom that is associated with changing hormone levels can be temporary—and may even be diminished through diet, exercise, or other therapeutic options. And above all, never forget that everyone’s path to menopause takes its own unique course.
Taking a Closer Look at Perimenopause
Perimenopause is the period of time preceding menopause in which your body’s reproductive system slowly winds down. Though perimenopause differs for every woman it generally marks a time of less-frequent ovulation and fluctuating levels of hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone). Perimenopause can last anywhere from two to ten years and usually begins sometime in a woman’s mid to late forties. Eventually, your ovaries completely stop all egg production and menstruation permanently ceases—that’s menopause.
Perimenopause isn’t like measles; you don’t wake up one day with a clear sign that you’ve come down with a case of waning estrogen. So identifying when you enter perimenopause isn’t easy. If you start noticing obvious changes in the length of your periods, the intervals between them, or the heaviness of your flow, and you’re between the ages of thirty-five and sixty, you should start checking for other signs of perimenopause. But changes in your cycle may not be your first indicator that perimenopause is approaching. Many women report symptoms of perimenopause while their periods remain much the same. Though we all have our own perimenopausal profile, most women feel some or all of the following symptoms as their bodies prepare to stop ovulating:
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Decreased sexual drive
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating, or "foggy thinking"
- Heart palpitations
- Migraine headaches
- Irregular and/or heavy periods
- Involuntary urine release and bladder urgency
- Dry eyes
- Vaginal dryness and painful intercourse
- Panic attacks
Hot flashes can be mild or severe, but in general, they involve a fast-spreading sensation of warmth in your neck, shoulders, and face that may last a few seconds or as long as thirty minutes or more. This sensation may begin at the top of your scalp, behind your ears, on your chest, or even across your nose. Hot flashes don’t have to limit themselves to your head and shoulders; many women have also reported flashes occurring across the breasts, below the breasts, or all over the body.
The good news about mood swings is that you may never experience them during perimenopause. But, mood swings are a common complaint of perimenopausal women. Among women who cite symptoms in perimenopause, nearly 50 percent say mood swings are among the symptoms that bother them the most.