We are female. Most of us have a menstrual cycle; most of us have ovaries. And since we all get older, most of us will eventually experience menopause. But even when that is still a few years away, we begin to experience changes.
In understanding your body and the changes that occur over time, it is good to know the language.
- Premenopause refers to the time when you experience a menstrual cycle (hopefully a regular one) and produce eggs.
- Perimenopause is the transition time that occurs before the cycle ends. It can last up to four years before menopause.
- Menopause is the time, typically between ages 45-55, when then menstrual cycle ends and a woman is no longer able to be pregnant.
- Postmenopause occurs when a woman has had no cycle for at least 12 months, and most menopausal symptoms end.
A lot of women are familiar with premenopause, and learn to pay attention to their cycle and the symptoms it produces (like cramps, anxiety, irritability, and bloating). Similarly, women have heard lots about the frustration of menopausal symptoms (like hot flashes) and the joy of postmenopause. However, perimenopause is less often discussed or understood.
Perimenopause literally means “around menopause.” Vague, right? Unfortunately, there is no specific timeline when this happens, and it can last a short time or up to several years. Just another way women are so lucky!
Seriously, because the timeline is so nonspecific, it can be really helpful to know the signs and symptoms of perimenopause. Informing yourself can keep you from thinking something else is wrong, and can help you prepare for the eventuality of menopause.
Here are the five common symptoms of perimenopause:
Symptom No. 1
Weather Changes (also known as hot flashes, night sweats, and cold sensitivity)
According to WebMD (http://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/hot-flashes), hot flashes happen when blood vessels near the skin’s surface dilate to cool. This produces the red, flushed look to the face. A woman may also perspire to cool down the body. In addition, some women experience a rapid heart rate or chills. Hot flashes accompanied with sweating can also occur at night. These are called night sweats and may interfere with sleep. And all this heating and cooling off rapidly can sometimes result in a sensitivity to drastic temperature changes or sensitivity to cold.
Symptom No. 2
Worsening Cycle Symptoms (or premenstrual syndrome)
I know you’re thinking, “It gets worse?” Perhaps worse isn’t the best word. In perimenopause, there are changes to the cycle, and this can cause more pronounced symptoms. These can include: irregular periods (heavier or lighter cycles, as well as longer or shorter), increased anxiety or irritability, bloating, and increased headaches.
Symptom No. 3
During this time, you can experience difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. This can be a result of the night sweats, or the potential changes in mood.
Symptom No. 4
Many women experience a change in their libido, or sexual desire, caused by the decrease in hormones. This can happen for two reasons. First, the changes to the body (lessening estrogen) during perimenopause can cause vaginal dryness, which can make sex uncomfortable. Second, the decrease in progesterone can cause less sexual desire itself and decrease in testosterone can affect ability to orgasm.
Symptom No. 5
Leaks and Urges – Urinary Issues
A lot of people don’t know that estrogen aids in bladder health. And as we age, we can experience urinary symptoms related to perimenopause. Urinary incontinence is when there is leaking randomly. Stress incontinence happens when a leak is brought on by coughing, sneezing, or laughing. Urge incontinence is when there is a sudden need to empty the bladder. All of these can occur during perimenopause.
All or some of these kinds of symptoms can occur throughout perimenopause, and during menopause. And the bad news is, there’s no miracle pill to stop them. But before you think it’s the end of the world, remember how it felt to first wish and hope you got your period because everyone else had it. Then a year later, you were wishing it never came.
The truth is, whether it’s the cramps and grumpiness of premenopause, the hot flashes or perimenopause, or the low libido of menopause…all of your life comes with some symptoms related to whatever reproductive stage you’re in. But each stage also comes with wonderful things – feeling like a woman when your cycle starts; looking into the eyes of your newborn child; experiencing the passion of a great night’s lovemaking; and feeling the release when, as an older woman, you don’t have to worry about cycles or flashes and can just enjoy being inside your own skin.
So keep yourself informed, know when your body is changing, and revel in the changes. It’s all part of being the fabulous woman you are, and will continue to be, no matter what stage of life you are in.