When I was sixteen I happily left home to go to college a year early. Yes, I was ready for all that the collegiate experience had to offer, but a not small part of me was escaping the incessant drama that occurred between my mother and my sister. One day I asked them why they just couldn’t be “normal” to each other, to which my mother replied, “Biologically impossible, I am going through menopause and your sister is going through puberty.” At that point in time I understood what the puberty thing meant, but I am just now beginning to get a clue about the other half of that hormonal equation.
In my mid-forties, it is high time I evaluate the landscape as I have already potentially entered a stage of hormonal transition termed perimenopause. A relatively new term, coined only a few decades ago, perimenopause means “around menopause” and is the time of transition when a woman’s ovaries start to slow down the production of hormones. This slowing down may begin as early as the 30s, but it but may not happen until a woman is in her 50’s. Regardless, this is an extended period for a body to be in transition, for during this time a woman may experience a whole host of symptoms with menopause still being years away.
The most common symptoms of perimenopause are:
- Irregular Periods. This is common sense as having a period, or ceasing to ovulate is what defines menopause. You are not officially menopausal until you have not experienced a period for over 12 months. During perimenopause periods may become shorter and lighter or heavier and longer. The important thing to remember is that you can still become pregnant.
- Sleeplessness. Having trouble with getting enough rest is another hallmark symptom of perimenopause. As levels of estrogen decrease the brain may release certain chemicals that impede our ability to rest.
- Hot Flashes. Again the brain is reacting to hormonal changes, in this case the hormone fluctuations have caused the hypothalamus to misread temperature regulating signals.
- Mood Swings. Irrational anger, sudden irritability, long crying spells, sound familiar? Some women experience even more dramatic episodes of moodiness during menopause than they ever experienced with PMS.
- Decreased Libido. Again everyone is different, but many women experience a lack of interest in sex during perimenopause. Could it have anything to do with the exhaustion, crying jags and malfunctioning thermostat?
There are many more symptoms of the perimenopausal stage of life. I encourage you to read up on what you may experience in the future, or it may help explain what you may be going through right now. A good source online that is a kind of clearinghouse of information and related articles is WebMD at http://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/guide-perimenopause.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists offer answers to specific questions at www.acog.org. There is also a large body of information concerning what you may do to alleviate and ameliorate some of the symptoms associated with perimenopause. I am wading through that literature just now, and will share that with you soon.