Did your parents, teachers, or health care providers prepare you for perimenopause? If you’re lucky to have had preparation from parents, etc., congratulations. You are a part of the minority. If you didn’t? I’m with you. We’re in the majority. You would think that such an important transition/right of passage, accompanied by so many physical and psychological changes, would be top of mind for open discussion and conversation amongst women, health, and health care professionals. Instead, it seems to be shrouded in secrecy.
Perimenopause & me
I began experiencing perimenopausal symptoms at thirty-eight. I still have a period, so I’ve still got some ways to go to menopause.
Lucky for me, I learned about perimenopause very early on in life, in my early twenties, and began observing. I was a biological science major, science and health lover, and always perusing health, women’s health, and science books. So when a few symptoms presented themselves in my thirty-eight year, I recognized them immediately.
After the onset of the first set of symptoms at thirty-eight, I took the initiative, and I began asking older females, family, friends, professionals, teachers, etc., about their personal experiences and or knowledge of the topic. Note. No one provided me with information, Not even my primary care physician or gynecologist.
Knowing what I knew then, I’d made up my mind that I was not going to suffer in silence. Better yet, I didn’t want to suffer at all. So arming myself with knowledge was my way to ensure ease and minimal suffering through this rite of passage. Ask, and you shall receive. It’s what I did.
Once I asked, the flood gates opened up. I got all sorts of answers and learned how drastically different the process is from one woman to the next. And I’m still asking questions because I’m still experiencing perimenopause. However, I feel ready and resourced when menopause and post-menopause set in. I’m am now armed with first-hand information from menopausal women and knowledge from health professionals about the possibilities. I know what I need to do and not do to optimize my wellbeing.
Why the Secrecy?
It baffles me that medical professionals and educators know about these terms and their effects, but they have kept a tight lid on them for whatever reasons. Bureaucracy, I suppose. I don’t know. It’s as though talking about them would lead to some catastrophic event.
The only process I could think about that’s associated with those two words is natural aging, and there’s nothing catastrophic about that. In any event, generally, perimenopause/menopause seemed to be taboo to talk about. That said, I am seeing progress, and the great news is that women and health care professionals are now, communicating more openly about both perimenopause and menopause. And look at that, nothing catastrophic is happening.
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause can begin as early as the mid thirties. It is the period leading up the menopause, and menopause is the last day of the menstrual period. Fyi, menopause is only one day; the last day of your period. Post menopause is every day after that. Basically the rest of your life. During this time sex hormones, like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, FSH, LH begin to decline.
Experts say, typically, perimenopause can last for about four years. But that’s just the average. Length of time varies from one person to the next. Environment and heredity plays a part in how long it lasts. I have been going through perimenopause for fourteen years. I also know another person who’s been experiencing it since their mid thirties.
Here are 14 symptoms that women may experience during perimenopause
- Hormone fluctuations – hormones like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, FSH and LH begin to decline. Ask your Dr. to check your levels. And don’t let them tell you, you don’t need to know. It helps to know your levels so you can obtain the appropriate support.
- Varied period duration – sometimes a period may last for three days and sometimes six days. You just never know how many. Go with the flow. No pun intended.
- Missed periods – inconsistent ovulation leads to missed periods. You can miss a period for one, two or even six and nine months, then It’ll pop up again.
- Night sweats/hot flashes – One minute you’ll be sitting pretty and all of a sudden an internal heat takes over and your body will feel like you’re in front of an oven. And just as fast as it starts, it may be over. As estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and even cortisone levels fall, changes in the body temperature occur.
- Insomnia – the inability to sleep due to night sweats or stress associated with declining estrogen and hormone fluctuation.
- Changes in blood-cholesterol levels – Cholesterol levels tend to increase during this time. Be mindful, your HDL’s (good cholesterol) may decrease and your LDL (bad cholesterol) may increase. Be sure to have your levels checked regularly. Sticking to a healthy diet that includes, fruits, vegetables and void or low of processed foods and moderate exercise will support healthy levels.
- Low sex drive – This may perhaps suck for you, or not. But low libido is likely for some women as estrogen levels fluctuate.
- Vaginal dryness – Low estrogen levels leads to dryness in the vaginal walls, which can cause painful sex. Dryness also occurs in the Libia area and can lead to itching. Don’t scratch. Use oils to lubricate and moisturize.
- Urinary incontinence – decreased levels of estrogen can lead to thinning of the urethra’s lining and also weaken the pelvic muscles. So a sneeze, fit of laughter or cough can cause a bit of tinkle for some women during perimenopause.
- Bone loss – Women are at risk of losing some bone mass during perimenopause. So be sure to consume a diet that supports your calcium intake.
- Decreased fertility – as estrogen, progesterone and other hormone levels decrease, so does ovulation, which is unpredictable. In addition, the quality of eggs decreases making it more difficult for conception to occur naturally.
- Mood swings/Brain fog – a drop in estrogen can affect the action of serotonin, and norephenerine. It can lead to mood swing, depression, etc. All of which can cause sleep loss, which in turn can lead to brain fog.
- Dry skin – estrogen decline causes the skin to lose it’s ability to produce and retain moisture, leading to dry and itchy skin, and also wrinkles and fine lines.
- Hair loss – progesterone and estrogen are responsible for hair growth and health. As they decline, hair gets thinner and grow less. Androgens are also responsible for hair loss. They are always present, but their effects are more pronounced with the decline of the dominant female hormones.
Are you perimenopausing? If yes, where are you on your journey? My recommendation is to put together a support team/community made up of peers, family, elders, doctors (both functional/eastern and western), therapists/counselors. Make sure these are people you feel safe with and can trust and turn to for support.