A lot of women who are approaching menopause for the first time find themselves quite confused. What’s happening to the body as you enter this period in your lives and how do you know if it’s menopause or not?
It can be quite alarming if things are occurring years before you anticipated, or (on the opposite side) you’re wondering why you’re still getting a monthly period that doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Like everything with our bodies, menopause is unique to each woman. Of course, it would be much more straightforward if we entered menopause on our 50th birthday. We’d be very prepared and know exactly what to expect!
Surprisingly, very few women know about the phase before menopause, known as ‘perimenopause’. This is the period at which things start to change gradually. Your hormones might begin to shift subtly, slowly reducing and at the start of perimenopause it’s almost undetectable. In fact, some women go through perimenopause without realising it, but others will suffer from symptoms in the same way they would during menopause itself.
The most common time for perimenopause to occur is between the ages of 45 and 55. However, this being said, you can enter the early stages of perimenopause in your early 40s or even your late 30s. On the other hand, some women might not become peri-menopausal until well into their 50s. A common misconception is the belief that if you started menstruation later in life, you will also experience menopause later in life.
Often one of the earlier signs of perimenopause is fatigue. This presents a challenge because poor sleep can be assigned to a number of health problems or can simply just be down to stress/ a bad routine. Therefore, many women don’t acknowledge fatigue as a sign of hormonal changes. Poor sleep alone is usually not enough to determine this for yourself, but it’s worth considering if you’ve suddenly started losing sleep for no apparent reason.
One of the most obvious changes to note is period changes. It could be that your period becomes heavier or lighter than usual. It might be that your cycle lengthens or shortens. At the start of perimenopause, your period could even remain the same. So don’t assume that if you’ve not experienced any irregularity that you are not in perimenopause.
When you are missing periods altogether you are usually well into perimenopause, but you are not classed as officially in menopause until you’ve gone 12 consecutive months without a period.
Changes in Mood
A really common side-effect of perimenopause is sudden or even gradual mood changes. Your body has hit this point where estrogen and progesterone have started to deplete. These ongoing changes can cause mood swings, higher moods or lower moods. Hormonal changes can also cause anxiety or even potentially depression. Most women who notice changes to their mood simply experience irritability and notice their moods can be slightly erratic. Again, this isn’t to say you will experience any changes to your mood at all.
Of course, there are so many other symptoms that can occur, but these three areas tend to the most common when it comes to the earliest signs. You should also look out for symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and low libido.