Symptoms of Perimenopause
The average age of menopause – when a woman’s period stops – is 51, but hormonal changes that precede menopause may start as early as 35 and last anywhere from a couple of months to several years. This period of time before menopause is called perimenopause. The key difference between perimenopause and menopause is the presence of menstruation. During perimenopause, a woman will typically menstruate, though periods are often erratic. If you have not had a period for 12 months, you are considered to have entered menopause. The changes in the female hormones during this time can cause a range of different symptoms. If you are experiencing the following symptoms, you’ve likely reached perimenopause. Let's look at the symptoms of perimenopause.
1. Hot Flashes
A hot flash is a feeling of heat that can’t be explained by the external environment, like hot temperature. They tend to develop suddenly, although in some cases they are preceded by some tingling in the hands, flushed face, sweating (especially above the waist), warm and moist skin, and increased heart rate.
Alcohol, smoking, stress, tight clothes, caffeine and spicy foods can all trigger hot flashes. Affecting three out of four women during perimenopause, hot flashes can also be experienced in the months and even years after menopause. In some cases, they are mild and hardly noticeable, yet in other cases, hot flashes are severe enough to interfere with sleep and day-to-day life.
Tips for coping with hot flashes:
- Avoid tight clothes and dress in layers so you can easily remove clothing when you have a hot flash.
- Avoid clothes or bed linens made from synthetic fabrics and opt for cotton instead.
- When a hot flash strikes, try sipping ice water or chewing on an ice cube
- Keep a food journal, which will help you identify any food triggers and avoid those foods.
Photo Credit: dolgachov / istockphoto.com
2. Worse PMS
As hormone levels change during perimenopause, your typical PMS may get worse. Emotional symptoms like mood swings, anxiety, depressed mood, crying spells, sleep troubles and foggy memory may feel worse. Physical symptoms of PMS like joint and muscle pain, headaches, fatigue, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, and breast tenderness can also be more intense.
Tips for coping with PMS aggravation:
- Change your diet. Eat smaller but more frequent meals and avoid foods that make you feel bloated. Limit salt and add more complex carbs (i.e., whole grains, fruits and veggies) and calcium-rich foods (i.e., yogurt, kefir, sesame seeds). Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Work out daily. Do at least 30 minutes of walking, swimming or other aerobic exercises.
- Reduce stress by practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
Photo Credit: fanelie rosier / istockphoto.com
3. Breast Tenderness
Breast tenderness may be felt during PMS, but also throughout the entire month. The breasts may not be just swollen but also tender and painful. These symptoms of perimenopause are – again – related to changes in estrogen levels.
Tips for coping with breast tenderness:
- Wear comfortable bras that offer plenty of support.
- Gently massage the breasts from the center of the chest out to the armpits to improve circulation in the area.
- An ice pack may help, but be sure to wrap it in a towel and keep it on your breasts for no more than 10 minutes.
Photo Credit: OSTILL / istockphoto.com
4. Irregular Periods
Irregular periods occur because of changes in your body’s levels of progesterone, which is the hormone that regulates the growth of the endometrium. Your periods may be heavier, lighter or just on an irregular schedule. They may start without the typical warning signs of PMS. If you suffer from fibroids or endometriosis you also may experience changes in the symptoms related to these conditions.
Tips for coping with irregular periods:
- Expect the unexpected and have a few tampons or pads with you at all times.
- Follow the same guidelines for diet and exercise as recommended for PMS aggravation.
- Stay – these changes are temporary, and you will not have these problems once you enter menopause.
- Seek medial advice from your doctor to rule out other causes of vaginal bleeding.
Photo Credit: 4774344sean / istockphoto.com
5. Lower Sex Drive
There are two main reasons why you may have a lower sex drive. Firstly, how could you be in the mood for sex while you experiencing menopause symptoms like night sweats, moodiness, breast tenderness, sleeping troubles and fatigue? Secondly, declining hormone levels cause changes in your body – many women experience vaginal dryness, atrophy (shrinkage), sensitivity, pain and difficulty becoming aroused.
Tips for spicing up your sex life:
- Make sex a priority and plan to have it regularly; this will help your vagina to stay in shape and improve symptoms.
- Seek treatment for vaginal dryness – you can also use lubricants or coconut oil.
- Consider going to couple therapy to work on your relationship. Low sex drive may be a sign of relationship problems as well, not just your hormones.
- Explore intimacy and other sides of sex, not just the physical aspect; being close to your partner, cuddling and kissing can all boost your sex drive.
Photo Credit: monkeybusinessimages / istockphoto.com
6. Fatigue and Sleeping Problems
These two problems go hand in hand. You can’t sleep at night and so you feel tired in the morning. Perhaps you’ll try to have a nap during the day, which will cause more problems with sleeping the next night. Both fatigue and sleeping problems can be explained by hormonal changes, as well as increased levels of stress during perimenopause.
Tips for improving fatigue:
- Try to better manage the other symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings and even low sex drive (as sex promotes a deep restful sleep and increases energy levels).
- Adopt a healthy diet, regular exercise and have a sleep routine as well (go to bed and wake up in the morning at the same time); the bedroom should be completely dark.
- If you need a nap during the day, keep it short (30 minutes).
Photo Credit: JaysonPhotography / istockphoto.com
7. Urinary Incontinence
Incontinence is experienced as a sudden urge to urinate and an inability to hold it. This can lead to urine leakage if you can’t quickly reach a washroom. Just like the vagina, the bladder and urethra also need estrogen to stay strong and in shape.
Tips for managing incontinence:
- Do Kegel exercises.
- Avoid drinking water in the hours before bedtime, but keep well hydrated during the day.
Read more about menopause symptoms over at NewLifeOutlook.