All you ever wanted (and desperately needed) to know about perimenopause is highlighted in this guest post by Danielle Fogel. Enjoy!
Perimenopause: Everything You Wanted to Know About It and Were Afraid to Ask
by Danielle Fogel
Menopause: It’s a taboo, a dreaded unknown, a scary change. You may imagine yourself, at age fifty, waking up one morning to shriveled ovaries and a hot flash. Menopause is sudden, right?
Menopause is preceded by a different phase – a phase that bridges the gap between regular ovulation and eventual menopause. It’s called perimenopause.
Perimenopause, in short, is the phase of life in which your ovaries gradually start producing less estrogen. Because of perimenopause, menopause is not a sudden change, but rather a gradual shift in hormonal activity in your body – in the same way your first period moments were not unprecedented. (Remember all the hormonal changes leading up to that fun time?)
Even though it eventually happens to about fifty percent of the population, perimenopause is much lesser known than menopause and much less discussed. That’s why we’ve asked all the important questions about it for you – and provided you with answers.
How will I know when my body is entering perimenopause? Perimenopause is marked by changes in your menstrual cycle – irregularity. Perhaps you are missing a period here and there, or even spotting. This happens thanks to your changing ovaries release of hormones, and is normal for all women to experience eventually. As a rule of thumb, as a woman in your late thirties or forties, a change in the menstrual cycle (irregular periods, spotting, cramping, sore breasts, etc…) likely marks the beginning of perimenopause, and signals that menopause is coming. However, a visit to your local gynecologist is a good idea to rule out other health issues such as cancer or pregnancy and give you peace of mind so you can relax during this new season of life.
How long does perimenopause last? The length of perimenopause varies from woman to woman, but the average phase lasts four years. Some women, however, only experience perimenopause for a few months, while other women can remain in this stage for upwards of ten years. Regular checkups with your gynecologist can ease health concerns relating to this phase of life, and give you insight into your own body’s rhythm during this time.
How do I know when it’s over? By medical definition, perimenopause is officially over when a woman has not had her period for twelve consecutive months. During this time, it’s a good idea to keep a log of your symptoms and periods, both for symptom management and to know when your body has shifted from perimenopause to menopause itself. There are many helpful apps that can help you do this, as well, if paper isn’t your thing. Remember that a visit to your gynecologist should be checked off before you rule yourself menopausal.
What are the symptoms of perimenopause and how do I manage them? Women commonly report symptoms of perimenopause being hot flashes, breast tenderness, irregular periods, fatigue, lower sex drive, and irregular periods. These symptoms can be eased using over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, lying down with a cool towel on your neck during hot flashes, and getting enough, regular sleep. The use of pantiliners may be helpful as spotting can happen without warning. (Protect your cute underwear, girl!) Some women also experience urine leakage when sneezing or coughing, and, if this is your case, liners for incontinence may be helpful during the perimenopause phase. If you are experiencing horrifically painful cramping, night sweats, or other extreme symptoms, it’s a good idea to check in with a doctor to rule out other health issues.
Can I get pregnant during perimenopause? YES! Though during perimenopause, pregnancy is less likely, it’s still possible because your ovaries are still producing some eggs sometimes. Protection should still be used during perimenopause to prevent unwanted pregnancy. (And, in some cases, hormonal birth control can actually help regulate perimenopause symptoms such as hot flashes.) On the flip side, if you find yourself entering perimenopause and still want more children, pregnancy is still very much possible, especially with modern fertility treatments and medical care. The key to ensuring you do not wait until it is too late (remember, some women are only in perimenopause for a few months before their ovaries stop releasing eggs altogether!) is to visit a doctor as soon as symptoms of perimenopause start. If you’re actively trying to get pregnant, be aware that some of the initial symptoms of pregnancy can mimic perimenopause and vice versa, so it’s always good to take an at-home pregnancy test and check in with your gynecologist to ensure everything is in order.
Perimenopause, like the stage before your first period, is not sudden, and doesn’t have to be scary. It’s a gradual change in your body’s secretion of hormones, and can be managed confidently with help from a doctor and an organized method of tracking your symptoms.
Though you may feel many different emotions during this time, it’s important to remember that this is a completely normal phase of life that all women experience – simply another change in your body’s processes. If you are feeling depressed or anxious regarding perimenopause/impending menopause, or feeling either of these emotions during perimenopause or menopause, consult with your doctor. Talking with a licensed therapist could be extremely beneficial to your mental health and help you embrace this next part of your journey.
Comment below with your perimenopause experience, and what you wish you had known before your body entered this stage.
Dani Fogel. is a Communication Coordinator at Brandable, based in Los Angeles, CA. She works on the Queen V brand within the company’s Digital and Ecommerce department.