There you are, sitting at your desk when all of a sudden your skin starts burning for no apparent reason. You start noticing an unusual discomfort or pain during intercourse. You are feeling tired because you haven’t been sleeping well. Your period is lighter, heavier, longer, shorter, earlier, later… than normal. What’s going on? While each of these symptoms can be due to other issues, you are most likely starting to experience the symptoms of (gasp!) perimenopause.
Perimenopause (also known as premenopause) is a term for describing symptoms caused by the normal hormonal fluctuations that occur as a woman moves closer to menopause. As you hit your mid-forties it’s time to start paying attention to how your body is changing from what is normal for you by monitoring for the common symptoms of perimenopause.
Menstrual Cycle Changes – As you grow older, your ovaries will be creating less estrogen which will affect the length of time between periods, variations of your normal flow, missed periods, and your PMS symptoms may intensify.
Vaginal Dryness – When your estrogen levels drop another of the common symptoms of perimenopause will make its presence known: vaginal dryness. When your body starts producing lower levels of estrogen your vaginal tissues lose lubrication and elasticity which can make for uncomfortable or even painful intercourse. This symptom is easily treatable with a safe feminine moisturizer and lubricant.
Hot Flashes – One of the most frequent symptoms of perimenopause are hot flashes. A hot flash is a quick feeling of heat and is usually accompanied by sweating. The frequency and intensity will vary as will the length of time you experience them, and keep in mind hot flashes do tend to become less severe as time passes.
Unusual Mood Swings – Increased mood swings, irritability and feelings of depression during perimenopause are experienced by many women, although the cause of these symptoms may be due to other factors not related to the hormonal changes of perimenopause such as more to sleep disruption, stress, and anxiety.
Sleep Issues – Sleep is often disrupted due to hot flashes or night sweats but sometimes sleep can become unpredictable, such as sense of restlessness when trying falling asleep or insomnia, due to other reasons.
Changes In Libido – Your sexual arousal and sexual desire may change as one of the symptoms of perimenopause as your changing hormone levels can often decrease your interest in sex. There are, however, steps you can take in order to maintain perimenopause sexual wellness.
Should Perimenopause Be Diagnosed By A Medical Professional?
Some women start to experience subtle changes without realizing they are connected or experience mild symptoms they feel are not severe enough to seek professional attention. A diagnosis of perimenopause by a medical practitioner can be done based on evaluating your described symptoms of perimenopause in addition to checking your hormone levels with a blood test. Since your hormone levels are changing during perimenopause it is usually more helpful to compare several blood tests done at different times.
With the onset of perimenopause, unfavorable changes to your blood cholesterol levels should start to be monitored by a medical professional on a regular basis. With the decline of estrogen levels, an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) and a decrease of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) are common which increases the risk of heart disease. In addition, you start to lose bone more quickly than you replace it due to lower estrogen levels thereby increasing your risk of osteoporosis so regular bone testing such as a bone mineral density test is also advisable.
If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of perimenopause that are starting to interfere with your daily life or overall well-being you should pay a visit to your doctor. Just remember that menopause is a normal change that comes along with moving into the next chapter of your life and there are many steps you can take to feel like your best self!