Periods. They are the bane of most women’s month. They can bring pain, emotional instability and sometimes relief. Regardless of our thoughts towards them, as women, we accept that they will be a part of our lives for 40+ years, and we learn to live in harmony with them until menopause sets in around the age of 50. What we don’t expect is for those perimenopause symptoms to set in early, sometimes hitting us as early as the mid-30’s.
8 in 10 Ten Women Experience Early Symptoms of Menopause – Are You One of Them?
The Cycle of the Female Body
Many people have heard of menopause. It’s commonly associated with middle-aged women fanning themselves and taking off their sweaters in the dead of winter. Menopause is the term used to describe the permanent end of the menstruation cycle. At this time the sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and others) that are produced in the ovaries decline, signaling that the woman is past childbearing age.
Perimenopause (or “pre-menopause”) is talked about less often but is considered by some to be far harder to endure than menopause itself.
JoAnn V. Pinkerton, executive director of the North American Menopause Society says, “The hot flashes of menopause capture all the attention, but the perimenopause transition is much harder”.
So, let’s talk about it.
Perimenopause: The Road to Menopause
Perimenopause is the transitional period leading up to menopause. This transitional time is unique to each woman, and can sometimes occur for months, and sometimes years, with the average length being 4 years. It is a completely natural progression as your body slowly produces less estrogen.
Every woman will experience perimenopause, beginning typically in the late 40’s. It is rarer for a woman to begin the process in her 30’s, but it’s not uncommon.
While the process of perimenopause is natural, there is some evidence that suggests certain factors can bring about early onset perimenopause:
Smoking – The onset of menopause can occur one to two years early in women who smoke versus women who do not smoke.
Family History – If members of your family have gone through perimenopause, you’re more likely to experience it as well.
Cancer Treatment – Treatment for cancer, such as chemotherapy and radiation can bring on early menopause.
Hysterectomy – A hysterectomy that removes your uterus but not your ovaries won’t bring on menopause because your ovaries are still producing estrogen, but the surgery itself could cause menopause to happen sooner than anticipated. Also, if you only have one ovary removed, the remaining ovary may stop working sooner than expected.
Perimenopause is nothing to be afraid of. It is a completely natural way for your body to move through the life cycle. However, when perimenopause arrives early, it can be very confusing for many women, especially if the symptoms arrive when the menstrual cycle is still consistent.
You Can Experience Perimenopause Symptoms Even If You Have Your Period
During perimenopause your body is in transition, so you may be experiencing some symptoms even as your period is active.
As ovulation becomes more unpredictable, the length of time between your periods may be longer or shorter, your flow may be heavy or light, and you may skip some periods. If you have a persistent change of seven or more days in the length of your menstrual cycle, you may be in early perimenopause. If you have a space of 60 or more days between periods, you may be in late perimenopause.
We’ve all likely had an older woman in our lives at some point cursing the dreaded hot flash. Hot flashes are a common sign that a woman is going through menopause. A hot flash is a period of intense heat, warm skin and uncomfortable sweating that appears to manifest when no environmental influences are present. The intensity, length, and frequency vary for each woman.
Sleep problems occur for women entering menopause, and are usually associated with hot flashes or night sweats that can make it very difficult for the individual to sleep comfortably.
Mood swings, irritability and the increased risk of depression are all associated with menopause and can be caused by interrupted sleep due to hot flashes, or through a hormonal change.
Vaginal and Bladder Problems
When estrogen levels diminish, vaginal tissue can lose lubrication and elasticity, which can make intercourse painful. There are over-the-counter lubricants available that can make the experience less painful. Low estrogen levels can leave the body vulnerable to urinary and vaginal infections as well.
As ovulation becomes irregular your ability to conceive decreases. However, if you’re still having periods than it is still possible to get pregnant, so it’s important to use a form of birth control for at least 12 months after your last period.
Changes in Sexual Function
Sexual arousal may change over the course of menopause, which is caused by the decrease in estrogen. It’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down while it’s in the process of transitioning.
Loss of Bone
When estrogen levels decrease you may start to lose bone faster than you can replace it. This can increase your risk of osteoporosis, a disease that causes fragile bones.
Changing Cholesterol Levels
With the declining estrogen levels comes a change in your cholesterol levels. You may experience an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which contributes to an increase in heart disease.
Some symptoms can be subtle and come on gradually, so at first, you may not connect them with perimenopause. Many women choose to live with the symptoms, while others choose to seek medical help in dealing with the symptoms.
If your symptoms are interfering with your daily life and well-being, it may be a good idea to speak with your doctor to learn how to make your symptoms more bearable.
Don’t Let Menopause Symptoms Control Your Life
Menopause is a natural part of life, so it makes sense that you handle your symptoms naturally as well. Incorporate these tips into your daily life to help ease the transition:
The lignins in flaxseed are a modulator of hormone metabolism. Remember, flaxseed can only be absorbed through the human body in ground form, so for optimal benefits avoid whole flax seeds and stick to the ground.
Eat Foods Rich in Calcium and Vitamin D
When your body is going through menopause, the decreased estrogen levels will cause your bones to weaken, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. Eating foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin, like leafy vegetables, beans, and fish, will help to keep your bones strong.
Exercise is a great way to keep your body fit and healthy as during perimenopause. A study published in the US National Library of Medicine shows that menopausal women who exercised three hours per week for 12 months had higher improvements both physically and mentally compared to their non-exercising peers. If you’re experiencing difficulty sleeping because of your symptoms, regular exercise will also help to tire you out so that you’ll be tired by the time your head hits the pillow.
Evening Primrose Oil
This is a source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that helps to moderate menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flashes. It is most commonly found in pill form.
Ladies, our bodies go through so much, and we have to respect them for that. Our periods are painful, and menopause is a roller coaster of emotion, but that’s a part of what makes our bodies strong. Perimenopause doesn’t have to be torture. You can fly through this transition smoothly and effortlessly (with only a few tears). We’re all in this together! Period.
 Dr. Andrew Weil. Perimenopause. Retrieved on October 4, 2017 from https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/health-centers/women/perimenopause/
 Mayo Clinic Staff. Perimenopause. Retrieved on October 4, 2017 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/perimenopause/symptoms-causes/dxc-20253775
 Mary Jane Brown. (May 28, 2016). 11 Natural Ways to Reduce Symptoms of Menopause. Retrieved on October 4, 2017 from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-natural-menopause-tips#section2
 Villaverde-Gutiérrez C, Araújo E, Cruz F, Roa JM, Barbosa W, Ruíz-Villaverde.G. Quality of Life of Rural Menopausal Women in Response to a Customized Exercise Program. Retrieved on October 4, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16553686
 Melanie Mannarino. Perimenopause Symptoms, Explained. Retrieved on October 4, 2017 from https://www.realsimple.com/health/perimenopause-symptoms
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