Perimenopause is the transition from your childbearing years into menopause, which officially begins 12 months after your final menstrual period.
Perimenopause can be a different experience for every woman. It may begin as early as 10 years before menopause. During this time hormones decrease especially estrogen.
One effect of the decrease in estrogen is the end of fertility. Menstrual periods can start to become irregular for some women as early as their 40s, and the experience may change. For example, you might have a shorter cycle, a lighter flow, or you may miss periods completely as you ovulate less regularly.
However, you can still get pregnant during this time. If you want to avoid pregnancy, continue to use birth control until you talk to your doctor about stopping.
Other signs of perimenopause
Some women may not notice any other effects of perimenopause. Others may have hot flashes, night sweats, and sleep disturbances. These things can go together, as hot flashes and night sweats can keep you from sleeping well.
Some women find that they don’t sleep well during perimenopause even without those physical symptoms, though. This may be one reason that women heading toward menopause sometimes feel irritable or have mood swings. Again, however, different women have different experiences. Irritability can be the main complaint for some women.
The symptoms we’ve already discussed can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, but there are other physical changes that may not be as noticeable, but can have a negative impact on your overall health.
Some women have a loss of flexibility in their vaginal tissues that can lead to discomfort during sex, or to urinary incontinence. You might be more susceptible to vaginal or bladder infections.
Bone loss can also take place, leading in some cases to osteoporosis. For many women, this condition has no symptoms. A broken bone might be the first sign of osteoporosis. Pay more attention to bone health during perimenopause with exercise and healthy eating. During this time women need to ensure they get 1200 mg to 1500 mg of calcium each day. It’s easier to absorb if the calcium comes from the foods in you eat. However, if you don’t get enough in your diet, then add a supplement to make up the difference. You also need 2000 units of Vitamin D daily. Physical exercise stimulates bone production. A walking program of 30 minutes 4 times weekly can help strengthen your bones.
Estrogen also protects against heart disease by controlling cholesterol levels. As estrogen levels fall during perimenopause, you might experience a rise in “bad” cholesterol and a drop in “good” cholesterol. A heart-healthy diet and regular exercise can help you manage your cholesterol, or your doctor may recommend medication.
When to talk with your doctor
If you’re troubled by the signs of perimenopause, talk with your gynecologist. There are lifestyle changes and medications that can make you more comfortable during this time.