Menopause can creep right up on you. For one thing, women are having children later than ever before – so, while the biological clock may feel very “real,” it’s hard to imagine starting menopause when you’re living with a baby or toddler in the house. Also, menopause used to be associated with “growing older,” while the modern woman in her 40s and 50s may still feel quite young, sexy and vibrant.
Can menopause co-exist with a youthful and energetic you? Yes, it sure can!
5 Signs You May Be in Perimenopause
The signs and symptoms of menopause can start as much as a decade before a woman actually hits menopause. You’ve reached true menopause when you’ve been period-free for at least 12 consecutive months. This “signs and symptoms” stage of menopause is actually called perimenopause, “around menopause,” and covers the period of time during which your body makes the shift from “still fertile” to “no longer fertile.”
Most women reach menopause between the ages of 40 and 58, with the average age for American women being 51-years old. However, the shift towards menopause can begin about four to eight years before it is actually diagnosed. In very rare cases, women may begin showing signs and symptoms of menopause in their late-20s or early-30s. This is referred to as early or premature menopause.
Either way, if you suspect you’re feeling the effects of perimenopause, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider so they can discuss what you’re experiencing and determine what – if any – treatment or support is available to you. Some women weather the road to menopause with only a few hitches and require nothing in the way of treatment, while others may find relief from various menopause treatments.
The following are five of the most common signs you’re making the transition to menopause:
- Irregular periods. Not surprisingly, reduced or erratic estrogen production results in irregular or skipped periods. This can mean periods that occur just weeks apart or with a few months in between. They can be heavier or lighter than normal. Some periods will not result in ovulation. However, as mentioned above, unless you’ve missed 12-consecutive periods in a row, you should always use some form of birth control if you don’t want to get pregnant. Always mention any irregularity in your menstrual cycle to your doctor so she can talk about the possible causes.
- Hot flashes and night sweats. Experts aren’t exactly sure why hot flashes occur, but they certainly do In fact, about 70% of women experience hot flashes as a side effect of menopause. They often occur at night, which further complicates matters since night sweats make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Some women find that things like caffeine, alcohol and certain medications or supplements act as triggers. Otherwise, dressing in layers, keeping the home a little cooler than normal and having ready access to a small, remote-control fan can all help to soothe you until hot flashes diminish.
- Irritability or mood swings. Many women find they are more moody, irritable, or prone to anger or tears during perimenopause. Part of this is hormonal. However, we also feel that lost sleep as a result of night sweats and hormonally-related disruptions to your normal sleeping patterns is also a cause. It’s impossible to be one’s best self when sleep loss is in the picture.
- Vaginal and/or bladder issues. From dry and/or thinning skin, to atrophied vaginal muscles or the tendency to pee when you sneeze or laugh (urinary incontinence) are also symptoms of perimenopause or menopause. If vaginal dryness or thinning skin/tissues is an issue, sex can be more painful. Experiment with different forms of lubrication to see which one(s) you and your partner prefer. If incontinence is an issue, kegels and pelvic floor physical therapy can yield dramatic results – without the need for medication or surgery.
- You just feel different. There are a range of “little” signs that all add up to a big difference in how you feel or think. Your interest in sex may decrease a bit, your energy levels may be lower and weight comes on faster and takes longer to go away. A low-grade depression may seem to hover at all times. You’re in the midst of a profound transition, so it’s no wonder you may experience a shift in the way you think about yourself and your role in the world.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may or may not elect to use some form of menopause treatment. Scheduling an appointment with your OB or midwife sooner, rather than later, will help to determine the best course for your symptoms, lifestyle and goals.