Perimenopause is not a pathological medical condition but, rather, a stage in the female’s natural aging process. It is, therefore, the transitional time period before a woman reaches menopause which is marked by a full year after her last and final period.
No aspect of perimenopause is predictable as no one can know with any degree of accuracy when it will begin, how long it will last, or how severe its symptoms will be. On the average, however, perimenopause lasts between two and eight years and it usually begins in the late 40s or early-50s but it can begin as early as the mid 30s or as late as the early 60s.
The Symptoms of Perimenopause
During perimenopause, the estrogen (female sex hormones) levels go up and down unsteadily as the body tries to adjust itself to the changes.
The other reproductive hormones, progesterone and testosterone, also undergo instable vacillations and all these hormonal fluctuations then affect the menstrual cycles and may cause them to be unusually long or short and the blood flow can vary from extremely light to frighteningly heavy. The ovaries and their production of eggs are also affected by the hormonal changes and thus some menstrual cycles do not include ovulation. So, women during the perimenopausal time period can still become pregnant but only during the cycles in which ovulation occurs.
Likewise, during the perimenopause years many women’s bodies go through various changes which include weight gain that is typically most apparent in their lower abdomens, buttocks and thighs. But the list of symptoms of perimenopause does not end there as it may also include the following additional ones:
1. Hot Flashes.
Hot flashes are sudden rises of body temperatures which affect approximately 65 to 75 percent of women during perimenopause and on through menopause and beyond. Most hot flashes occur during the night and lead to night sweating but they often occur throughout the day, as well.
2. Sleep Disturbances.
Erratic sleep disturbances are often caused by the hot flashes and the night sweats but such disturbances can also occur without them.
3. Mood Swings.
The mood swings can vary from one minute to the next and they often include irritability and depression as well as shortness of tempted and anxiety.
4. Vaginal Dryness.
Decreased levels of estrogen cause the tissues of the vagina to dry up and lose the suppleness it had in earlier years. This may, therefore, lead to painful sexual encounters. In addition, diminished estrogen may also leave the vagina more susceptible to infections.
5. Urinary Incontinence.
Reduced levels of estrogen may weaken the muscles which control the bladder and may lead to urinary incontinence as well as more frequent bladder infections.
6. Sexual Functionality.
Sexual desire and arousal may ebb during this turbulent time of a woman’s life.
Declined levels of estrogen lead to bone loss and may eventually result, if untreated, to osteoporosis which weakens bones and makes them easily breakable.
8. Cholesterol Changes.
Low estrogen levels often increase the bad cholesterol (LDL) while decreasing the good cholesterol (HDL). These changes can then lead to heart disease.
As mentioned earlier, perimenopause is not a disease that needs to be treated but its symptoms can be relieved with oral contraceptives or progestin therapy which may restore regularity in the menstrual cycles as well as reduce hot flashes and vaginal dryness. If the monthly periods produce extremely heavy bleeding, endometrial ablation may prove to be effective. Furthermore, well balanced nutrition with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetable and whole grains; vitamin and mineral supplements, especially vitamin D and calcium; avoiding tobacco, alcohol and caffeine; a daily routine of exercise and stress management can all be crucially helpful.