How is perimenopause different than menopause?
The average American woman enters menopause at age 51, but the hormone level shifts that trigger menopause can actually begin years earlier. Perimenopause, also known as the menopause transition, usually starts in your 40’s but for some women, it can begin as early as your mid-30’s and can last anywhere from a few months to 10 years.
Perimenopause means “around menopause” and refers to the time that your body is making the transition to menopause. The level of estrogen in your body rises and falls unevenly during perimenopause. These hormone changes can begin up to 10 years before you actually go through menopause. Your menstrual cycles may become irregular, lengthen or shorten and/or become heavier or lighter, and you may experience menopause-like symptoms.
The main factor distinguishing perimenopause from menopause is menstruation. Women in perimenopause are still producing estrogen and having periods. Once you’ve gone through 12 consecutive months without having a period, you’ve officially reached menopause
Can I get pregnant if I am perimenopausal?
Yes. Despite a decline in fertility during the perimenopause stage, you can still become pregnant.
What are the signs of perimenopause and how do I know if I’m in it?
In perimenopause, you can suffer from a whole slew of symptoms that can be life-interrupting including the following:
- Depression and anxiety
- Moodiness, irritability and rage
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Insomnia and fatigue
- Vaginal dryness; discomfort during sex
- Lower libido
- Cognitive problems
You may be experiencing one or several of the symptoms long before you realize you are perimenopausal. What is reassuring though, fluctuating hormone levels do not make you any less healthy and there is a lot you can do—from diet and lifestyle changes to medications—to help control your symptoms.
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What can I do to help reduce my symptoms of perimenopause?
Your healthcare provider may suggest hormone therapy like low-dose birth control pills or an intrauterine device (IUD) that contains progesterone. This can make your periods more regular and prevent excess bleeding. They may also help with some of the other symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings. There are also other prescription medications that can help control some of the other symptoms.
Other treatments available to help with the symptoms of perimenopause may include antidepressants for mood swings, herbal options for hot flashes, and vaginal lubricants for vaginal dryness. Additionally, you may also feel better if you do things to enhance your general well-being like quitting smoking, exercising, drinking less alcohol, decreasing caffeine and getting more sleep.
Are my perimenopausal symptoms normal or something to be concerned about?
Irregular periods are common and normal during perimenopause. But other conditions can affect your menstrual cycle. If any of the following situations apply to you, see a doctor to rule out other causes:
- Your periods are very heavy or they have blood clots
- Your periods last several days longer than usual
- You spot between periods or after sex
- Your periods happen close together
If you are experiencing symptoms that interfere with your life or well-being, visit your Ochsner gynecologist. Click here to schedule an appointment online.