All women experience menopause, which refers to the time in a woman’s life, typically in middle age, when her ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone and her period stops. Menopause is a process, and it doesn’t begin suddenly. The body transitions to menopause over the course of months or even years. This transitional time is what’s known as perimenopause.
As women approach middle age, it’s important to understand perimenopause and what you can expect during the transition to menopause.
What Is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause literally translates to around or near (peri) menopause. Perimenopause refers to the time when the ovaries gradually stop working, ultimately leading to menopause. With the ovaries producing less estrogen and progesterone, the changes in hormone levels lead to menopausal symptoms.
Perimenopause does not affect every woman the same way, with onset most common sometime in your 40s. The average duration of perimenopause is 4 years. However, this transitional time could last only a matter of months for some and as long as ten years for others.
What Are Its Symptoms?
Perimenopause symptoms affect women differently and on a large spectrum. Some experience symptoms with little notice or discomfort, while others have symptoms so acute that it impacts their day to day lives. The following are signs that you may be perimenopausal.
Hormone levels are in flux from month to month during perimenopause, affecting ovulation. These unpredictable changes can lead to irregular or missed periods. The irregularities can manifest in a variety of ways, from the length of your cycle to different bleeding patterns.
Changes to your period during perimenopause may include:
- Shorter or longer cycles
- Heavy bleeding
- Spotting between periods
- Missed periods
Due to the unpredictable nature of changing hormone levels, you may experience different effects on your period from one cycle to the next.
The most commonly reported symptom of perimenopause is hot flashes. Hot flashes vary in length, frequency, and severity, and may occur as often as several times a day. They can also happen at night, causing night sweats. Hot flashes tend to come on rapidly and can last from one to five minutes or even five to ten minutes. These feelings of intense warmth can be uncomfortable and inconvenient, but there are steps you can take to help manage hot flashes.
Vaginal and bladder problems
Falling estrogen levels can cause a number of vaginal and bladder problems. Vaginal tissue may become thinner and looser, which can lead to vaginal dryness that can be irritating, itchy, and make intercourse painful. Low estrogen levels can also make you more susceptible to vaginal and urinary infections, with loss of tissue sometimes causing urinary incontinence and increased urination.
Some women experience mood swings and irritability during perimenopause and may have an increased risk of depression. Mood changes may result from oscillating hormone levels, but there are likely more contributing factors. Disrupted sleep may also play a role in the irritability and mood changes found in some perimenopausal women.
Sleep problems can also occur during perimenopause. Studies have found correlations between hot flashes and disrupted sleep, but sleep patterns can be unpredictable even for women who don’t have hot flashes. Hormone changes may also affect sleep during perimenopause.
In addition to the above, perimenopausal women may have other symptoms such as joint and muscle aches, decreased fertility, changes in sexual desire, and trouble concentrating. While these symptoms can be frustrating, there are steps you can take to help manage them.
How Is Perimenopause Treated?
The transition to menopause is a natural process that all women go through, but women can seek treatment to manage perimenopause symptoms. If your symptoms are causing discomfort or distress, talk to your doctor about treatment options. Their treatment suggestions may include hormone therapy, vaginal estrogen, and even antidepressants or Gabapentin, a drug used to treat seizures, as both have been found to manage or reduce hot flashes. Antidepressants can also be used to stabilize moods.
Contact Green Valley OB/GYN
If you have questions about perimenopause or managing its symptoms, contact your gynecologist. Green Valley OB/GYN has been providing the highest quality of obstetric and gynecological care for over 70 years, offering a comprehensive list of services. To set up an appointment or talk about your health, call us at (336) 378-1110 to schedule an appointment.