Perimenopause is the unsung hero of every woman’s middle age. You may have heard about it and seen its elusive symptoms, but do you really know what it is? Allow me to enlighten you on this fascinating rite of passage.
Perimenopause occurs before menopause. It’s a preview of what’s to come as a woman’s body ages from fertile to wise. This transformation usually begins in a woman’s 40s, but precocious bodies may start earlier.
Perimenopause can last from a few years to a decade before menopause, the grand finale, begins.
As if middle age wasn’t exciting enough, perimenopause brings a variety of physical and emotional changes. Hormone levels swing back and forth like a crazy pendulum, causing a wide range of symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and the ever-elusive mood swings. Periods may become irregular, indicating that time is passing through our bodies like sand through an hourglass.
But don’t be afraid, we’ve got this! Perimenopause is merely another chapter in the epic saga of womanhood. Embracing it shows our resilience and adaptability. After all, perimenopause is just another stepping stone on the path to becoming the wise, all-knowing, fabulous, ageless women we were destined to be.
So, I will be sharing all I know about perimenopause, from symptoms to diet and weight loss.
- What is Perimenopause?
- What’s the difference between Perimenopause and Menopause?
- When does perimenopause start?
- What causes Perimenopause?
- How Long Does Perimenopause Last?
- What are the symptoms of perimenopause?
- Does perimenopause cause bloating? What are the remedies?
- How to maintain a healthy weight and diet during perimenopause
- Can Perimenopause Symptoms Be Reduced by Treatments? What are they?
What is Perimenopause?
As I have explained above, the menopause stage, in which menstruation ceases, is generally known to women. But did you know that perimenopause, a much longer period of transition, comes before menopause?
Perimenopause typically begins when a woman is in her 40s, but lifestyle, genetic factors, and medical history can cause it to begin earlier.
During perimenopause, your body makes less estrogen and your hormone levels change, which can make you tired, keep you up at night, make you sweat at night, change your mood, and make you less sexually interested.
Not all women will experience these symptoms; in fact, approximately 15% will have no symptoms at all.
However, for those of us in the unlucky majority, here is everything you need to know about perimenopause symptoms and treatment.
What’s the difference between Perimenopause and Menopause?
Menopause is officially diagnosed when a woman has gone 12 months or more without a period.
In menopause, the ovaries stop releasing eggs, signalling the end of reproduction.
But menopause does not happen all at once. The transition actually starts 8-10 years earlier due to changing hormone levels in the body. This transition is called perimenopause.
During perimenopause, you may notice changes in your menstrual cycle– for example, irregular cycles or heavy periods.
It’s important to remember, however, that you can still get pregnant during perimenopause.
When does perimenopause start?
Perimenopause most often begins between the ages of 40 and 44.
However, perimenopause can occur earlier, particularly if you have a history of smoking, cancer treatments, or hysterectomy/oophorectomy.
Some women notice symptoms in their mid-30’s, when fertility naturally starts to decline due to changing hormone levels.
Often, the first noticeable symptom of perimenopause will be irregular periods.
However, irregular periods can be caused by other medical conditions.
If your irregular periods are accompanied by heavy bleeding, blood clots, or spotting after sex, it’s important to talk to your doctor.
What causes Perimenopause?
During the peak reproductive years, levels of reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone tend to rise and fall in predictable cycles.
However, as we age, the ovaries naturally begin to produce less estrogen.
Estrogen is an important hormone that regulates a woman’s reproductive system, including the cycle of menstruation.
The hormone estrogen is also involved in controlling the body’s temperature, mood, and memory.
During perimenopause, levels of estrogen can drop and spike unexpectedly. This causes other hormones to fluctuate, effectively creating a hormonal “rollercoaster.”
How Long Does Perimenopause Last?
The average length of perimenopause is 4 years, but some women may only experience symptoms for a few months, or for as long as 10 years.
Some symptoms of perimenopause get better over time, while others, such as vaginal dryness, tend to get worse as women approach menopause.
The symptoms and duration of perimenopause appear to be influenced by cultural and lifestyle factors. For example, fewer Korean, Japanese, and Southeast Asian women report hot flashes.
Some signs that perimenopause is ending are increasingly irregular periods, worsening hot flashes and insomnia, painful intercourse, and changes in metabolism, possibly leading to weight gain.
What are the symptoms of perimenopause?
The symptoms of perimenopause vary among individuals, but here are some of the most common:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes or night sweats
- Mood changes
- Brain fog (poor concentration, forgetfulness)
- Vaginal dryness
- Loss of sex drive
- Breast tenderness
- Weight gain or bloating
- Hair and skin changes (hair loss, itchiness, hormonal acne)
- Urinary urgency, leaking, or incontinence
If you’re thinking that this sounds like a hot bag of awful, you’re not wrong!
Luckily, we live in a day and age where women are more likely to talk about these issues and support one another through them.
There are books about perimenopause and menopause, Facebook pages, and online support groups.
Many women find that connecting with others who are experiencing the same issues helps them feel less alone.
While there is nothing you can do to completely prevent perimenopause and menopause, there are treatments that can help.
Does perimenopause cause bloating? What are the remedies?
Bloating is a common symptom of perimenopause and menopause.
Bloating, caused by water retention and gas, is not the same as weight gain, although sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference.
It is characterized by a distended, swollen belly, especially after eating. However, bloating is temporary, while weight gain is usually more stable.
Here are some steps you can take to reduce perimenopause bloating:
- Stay hydrated
- Exercise regularly
- Reduce salt intake
- Avoid trigger foods like beans, broccoli, and fried foods
- Eat smaller meals
- Supplement with probiotics
- Avoid chewing gum or drinking carbonated beverages
- Cut down on alcohol consumption
- Reduce stress and anxiety
If you do all of these things and are still experiencing uncomfortable bloating, you can take over-the-counter gas medication or drink green tea, a natural diuretic.
Hormone therapy and birth control might also help with perimenopausal bloating.
Bloating will happen less frequently as your body adjusts to new hormone levels.
If your bloating is persistent and painful, you should speak to your doctor to rule out other concerns.
How to maintain a healthy weight and diet during perimenopause
The average weight gain for perimenopausal and menopausal women is only 4.5 pounds, but it is one of the more common complaints of women who are going through this transition.
Compared to other areas of the body, women going through perimenopause and menopause are more likely to gain weight in the area around their abdomen.
Genetics and prior health history play a role in how much your body changes due to perimenopause, but there are things you can do to maintain a healthy weight during perimenopause, such as changing your diet and exercising regularly.
It’s best to start with small, sustainable changes, such as:
Eat a fruit or vegetable at every meal
Fruits and vegetables contain fiber, which helps you feel full and stay regular. Fruits and vegetables like celery, watermelon, and cucumber have high water content, which can help fight water retention.
Limit alcohol and sweets
Alcoholic drinks and sweets are high in calories but low in nutrition.
In addition, alcohol can exacerbate many perimenopausal symptoms, like insomnia, depression, and bloating.
Drink more water
It may seem counterintuitive to drink more water when you are retaining water, but experts say this is the best way to fight water retention.
Switch to whole grains
Whole grains, like fibrous fruits and vegetables, make you feel fuller for longer.
They also help prevent age-related conditions like heart disease and cancer.
Watch out for emotional eating
Many of us head to the fridge or the pantry when we are stressed or upset.
But emotional eating is associated with weight gain and failed attempts at weight loss.
Before you reach for a snack to self-soothe, ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” or “What do I need right now?”
According to research, making dietary changes is more likely to be successful if you have a strong support system.
So, call up that friend and meet up at the next farmer’s market, or take a healthy cooking class together!
We all know exercise is good for us, but it is not always easy to motivate ourselves or fit exercise into our busy schedules.
Luckily, you don’t need to hit the gym for an hour a day to reap the benefits of exercise.
Here are some simple ways to get more movement throughout the day:
Start the day with some light yoga
There are a variety of yoga apps and YouTube videos that are suitable for beginners, and some are as short as 15 minutes.
Set your alarm for a little earlier and start the day with some mindful movement!
Walk as much as possible
Walk to do an errand or park further away from the store. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
These activities might not seem like much, but they add up!
Take a class or join a club
Research suggests that social support can help people maintain an exercise routine. Not a fan of group exercises?
A workout buddy can help you feel more motivated, push yourself harder, and have more fun while doing it!
Try strength training to build muscle mass
Strength training helps build muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn.
Strength training is especially important as we age because it strengthens bones and helps prevent injury. Check out some strength training workouts here.
Make use of “time confetti”
The competing demands of work and family life often mean that instead of having long blocks of free time, we instead have bits and pieces that Brigid Schulte refers to as “time confetti.”
The next time you find yourself with a free 5-10 minutes, cue up some music and dance!
Or, take a quick walk around the block, do a few yoga poses, or whatever type of movement feels best to you!
READ ALSO: Makeup For Menopausal Skin
Can Perimenopause Symptoms Be Reduced by Treatments? What are they?
The most common treatments for perimenopausal symptoms are birth control, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and antidepressant medication.
It is important to speak to your doctor before starting any of these treatments.
In addition, there are several lifestyle changes that can help with perimenopausal symptoms, such as exercise and diet.
Supplements that offer long-lasting hormonal support can also help you manage the symptoms of perimenopause.
Although there is conflicting research and less regulation of nutritional supplements than there is for prescription drugs, some women claim relief from using them.
Fortunately, there are a number of supplements that offer support for perimenopausal symptoms, such as fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, dry skin, and many others.
We shared our recommendation for the best supplements for perimenopause and menopause here. We hope they will be beneficial in helping you on your menopausal journey.
This is often prescribed in early perimenopause as a treatment for vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, and can be administered in the form of a pill, patch, or ring.
Some women find that birth control also helps to even out their moods and reduce hormonal acne.
But birth control is not right for all women, so be sure to talk to your doctor before taking it.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
HRT is a medication that contains reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone.
There are two types of HRT– systemic hormone therapy and low-dose vaginal products. Low-dose vaginal products are only used to treat symptoms in the vaginal or urinary areas. Systemic hormone therapy, on the other hand, uses a higher dose of estrogen that is spread all over the body.
Doctors often give progesterone along with estrogen to keep the uterine lining from getting thicker.
There are some risks associated with HRT, but they can be minimized with its short-term use and type of treatment.
Antidepressant medications have been shown to address both the vasomotor symptoms, (e.g., hot flashes), and the emotional symptoms (depression, anxiety, and mood swings) of perimenopause.
There are several different types of antidepressants. Your doctor can discuss which medication might be best for you.
Sometimes, women need to try several different medications before finding the right one, or supplement antidepressant treatment with estrogen replacement for optimal results.
Perimenopause and menopause can be challenging for a variety of reasons.
Their doctors frequently ignore or dismiss the concerns of women. But knowledge is power!
We think the information we’ve provided will enable you to push for a better approach to treating your menopausal or perimenopausal symptoms.
You are not alone, and you don’t need to suffer in silence!
♡ Love ♡,