While everyone thinks they know about menopause, we find most women are unclear about how long the process actually is, how you can begin experiencing symptoms long before periods cease, and that things aren’t always as awful as pop culture and urban myth has led us to believe – check out 5 Reasons to Celebrate & Stay Positive During Menopause.
The actual affirmation that a woman has reached menopause comes after a woman has ceased having her period for 12, consecutive months. In the meantime, your body goes through perimenopause.
Perimenopause: The Menopause Journey Begins
Menopause doesn’t happen overnight; rather, your body goes through a wind down process as hormones decrease, increase and do a bit of a biochemical rollercoaster until they finally settle down into a more restful and peaceful post-menopausal state.
Here are some of the things you can expect in perimenopause:
It takes an average of 8 to 10 years
As referenced above – menopause is a hormonal process and it takes years from start to finish. The average age for women to reach full menopause (ceasing their periods for 12 months in a row) is 51. Therefore, most women are beginning perimenopause in their early 40s.
This is also the reason getting pregnant is much trickier from age 40 onward; you’re trying to gear up a system that is starting to wind down.
It will probably begin in your 40s
Perimenopause begins most commonly in your 40s, and women are most likely to go through menopause similarly to their sisters and mother; some women may begin perimenopause in their latest-30.
If you’re experiencing perimenopause symptoms (explained below) at age 35- or younger, you may be experiencing early menopause, so check in with your gynecologist to be sure because early menopause puts you at risk for other health issues.
Estrogen levels decrease, androgen levels increase
The main culprits of any perimenopause symptoms you experience are the result of hormone fluctuations. Most notably:
- Estrogen levels can go up before they go down (the body’s effort to get as many eggs matured as possible). By menopause, estrogen levels will be lower than during the fertile years.
- Progesterone levels drop when you do ovulate. Ovulation is wonky during this period but when you do ovulate, progesterone levels tend to drop lower than they used to.
- Androgen (male hormone levels) go up. Over this period of time, androgen (male hormone) levels rise – hence those pesky whiskers that appear out of nowhere on your chin and upper lip…following male hair patterns.
All those hormonal ups and downs take their toll in the form of “menopause symptoms.”
You’ll know you’re experiencing perimenopause by its symptoms
Most women experience mild to moderate menopause symptoms, and only a smaller minority of women have what they consider severe-level symptoms. The most common symptoms include:
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness (which can lead to painful intercourse)
- Irregular periods
- A shorter menstrual cycle
- Weight gain and difficulty losing weight
- Hot flashes
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia at the beginning or in the middle of the night)
- Irritability or moodiness
- Difficulty concentrating
The large majority of these will fade after you reach menopause – but many women (as many as 30%) continue to experience some degree of hot flashes after menopause.
You can support the perimenopause process with lifestyle choices
Certain lifestyle choices can diminish the effects of menopause symptoms. Diet is certainly one of them – the foods you eat can make symptoms work or help to mitigate them. Read, What You Eat May Delay Menopause, to learn more about that.
Regular exercise is always helpful – particularly for weight management, healthier sleep habits and mood regulation. You can also discuss hormone therapy options with your physician to help weather the storm.
Need support or confirmation that you’re experiencing perimenopause? Schedule an appointment with the Overlake team and we’ll support you through the journey.