Your periods have been as regular as clockwork all your life, you sleep like a baby, and you’re always full of energy. Recently however, you’ve lost your shine. Your periods are all over the place, you can’t remember the last time you didn’t wake up in a pool of your own sweat, and you’re sure there’s something else you were going to say but you can’t quite remember it… Sound familiar?
What you’re experiencing could be perimenopause and we’re here to help. In this article we’re going to explore what perimenopause is, when it might happen, along with some of the symptoms you might experience.
Let’s take a look:
What Is Perimenopause?
Go back a few years and we reckon the vast majority of women hadn’t even heard of perimenopause. We were aware of menopause, we’d heard of the word at least, but our knowledge didn’t extend much further than knowing it was something that made middle aged women get all hot, flustered and forgetful. Thankfully, times have changed and there is lots more information out there about perimenopause as well as plenty of useful resources and places you can go to for help.
Before we take a look at what perimenopause is, let’s firstly establish what menopause is. Menopause is the day, 12 months after you last had a period. Yep, that’s right, menopause officially lasts just one day. Once that day has passed you move into the postmenopause phase, when although you will no longer be getting periods you may still experience some menopausal related symptoms. Perimenopause is the time before your menopause day and this phase can last for years. So, can you see why this might have more of an effect on us?
But why does it happen? Why don’t we automatically reach the point of menopause when we wake up one day and our periods have just stopped? Well, it’s hormones ain’t it!
Women have two main reproductive hormones: oestrogen and progesterone (we also have a little bit of testosterone as well, but the other two are the main players). These hormones are in charge of our reproductive system and are the reason we get periods. Levels of these hormones fluctuate both throughout our cycle and at various moments in our lifetime. For example, pregnant women have higher levels of both hormones, as they are essential for things like stimulating growth and function of the placenta and preparing for lactation. As we age, the levels of oestrogen and progesterone start to drop. It is a sign that our child bearing years are coming to an end, a kind of natural selection if you like. But this hormone depletion doesn’t happen suddenly, it is a gradual process that takes years. And as these levels start to drop, us females start to notice something funny going on. Because hormones are powerful things, they impact us far more than we realise, and when they start decreasing it’s only natural we’re going to experience some side effects. This is perimenopause.
When Will I Go Through Perimenopause?
OK, so now we know what perimenopause is, we’d quite like to know when it’s going to happen to us so that we can start preparing for it! And that right there is the problem, you see there isn’t a specific time that you can work out when you’ll hit perimenopause. There’s an average, but there’s always an average, right? If you do a quick Google search you’ll see that the average age for women to start experiencing perimenopausal symptoms is between 45 and 55 years of age. But this is by no means set in stone. We know lots of women, ourselves included, who hit perimenopause at 40. There are a small number of women who go through it in their 30s. Just like when we were young and we didn’t know exactly when we were going to get our first period, we also have no clue when we will go through perimenopause.
What differs is that before you get your first period you’ll grow armpit and pubic hair, you’ll notice discharge in your knickers, and your boobs will start to bud, so you know it’s on its way. With perimenopause however, by the time you start noticing any changes, or certainly by the time you realise something’s not right, you’re already in the perimenopausal phase. It doesn’t come with any warning signs.
If you started your period at an early age, it is likely that you will go through perimenopause early too. And it is also worth speaking to your mum about when she went through it as these things tend to be genetic. The perimenopausal stage can last anywhere from a few months right up to 10 years. It’s a bit of a lottery as to what you’ll get, so buckle up because you could be in for a bit of a rollercoaster ride!
We don’t mean to be the bearers of bad news, but unfortunately and rather annoyingly perimenopause comes with many, many, different symptoms. And that’s part of the difficulty really, in that because there are so many symptoms, it can often easily be mistaken for something else or just brushed off as one of those things that happens to you when you get old. Also, not every woman will experience every symptom. Some women sail through perimenopause without even realising, some women get one or two symptoms, some a handful, and some get the whole kit and caboodle. There is no rhyme nor reason as to what you’ll get it seems. That being said, there are some common symptoms that most women experience at some point during their perimenopausal years, so let’s take a look at those:
- Changes to your cycle – Periods will likely become erratic. Even if you’ve been as regular as clockwork before, now you may get two a month, one a month but you don’t know when it will be, or you might get none for ages and then suddenly have one again. This is totally normal, as it’s your body’s way of winding down before reaching menopause, however it is totally annoying af! Your periods may also become heavier and you may also experience more intense PMS symptoms like cramps.
- Hot flushes/Night sweats – Hormones are in charge of how the body controls its temperature, so when our hormone levels reduce it becomes harder for us to regulate our internal thermometer. This can result in night sweats, where you wake up absolutely drenched to the skin in sweat, or in hot flushes, where you can suddenly be hit with an intense wave of heat that spreads through the body. Neither are very nice and they can contribute to other perimenopausal symptoms such as lack of confidence and loss of libido.
- Vaginal dryness – Lower levels of oestrogen can make the tissues of the vulva and lining of the vagina become thinner, drier, and less elastic.
- Difficulty sleeping – A consequence of hot flushes and night sweats is that it affects the quality of sleep we get. And once our sleep cycle is mucked up it can be very difficult to get it back on track. Perimenopausal women can struggle with insomnia, repeatedly waking up in the night and struggling to get back to sleep, and can even experience much more vivid dreams than usual.
- Brain fog – Changing hormone levels in the brain can result in women being unable to think as clearly as they used to. They may feel less organised, or have moments where their mind suddenly goes completely blank and this can be hugely debilitating especially in the workplace.
- Loss of libido – As our hormone levels decrease so too can our sex drive. Lower levels of oestrogen and testosterone can all take away our sexual desire. Throw in the fact our vaginas are drying up and we’re knackered as hell, it’s no wonder we don’t fancy as much nookie as we used to.
- Mood changes – Not only do your reduced hormone levels affect your mood, but the time you are most likely to be going through perimenopause is also the time when you’re likely to have other stresses going on in your life. Hey, they don’t call it a mid-life crisis for nothing! You may feel angry, teary, irritable, anxious, all the emotions, and at times you may feel as though you’re completely losing the plot.
OK, so we really haven’t painted a very nice picture of this perimenopause business, have we? Not gonna lie, it’s tough. But, so are we. And most importantly, when we know about this stuff, when we take the time to educate ourselves, research, talk to friends etc., we can equip ourselves to deal with it as and when it happens to us. Because it will. That much is inevitable. And like we said, you may be one of the lucky ones. You may sail through this time in your life with absolute ease, but it’s also important you understand that you may not. The good news is, you have options. There are plenty of treatment options available, from various HRT options through to lots of different natural and holistic therapies and treatments that can help alleviate those irksome perimenopause symptoms. Speak to your GP, speak to your friends, speak to your partner. Always remember you are not alone.