Perimenopause, the time around menopause, can last a few months to several years. It can begin as early as the late thirties but typically starts in the forties. An occasional woman will have normal cycles with no symptoms until her last menstrual period in her fifties but that’s the exception rather than the rule. For many women, it’s a rocky road, where they feel they’ve lost control over their bodies!
What changes are associated with perimenopause?
Women will notice that their menstrual cycles shorten from 28 days to 20-24 days. At the same time, the menstrual flow usually gets heavier and/or longer. Instead of the typical four or five-day period, it becomes seven to ten days! The period may worsen so that she’s bleeding three weeks out of each month! The bleeding can be profuse and associated with huge clots and some women are homebound on those days.
Excessive bleeding at this time is the most common cause for the 600,000 hysterectomies that are done each year! If women educate themselves about this problem, they will be able to seek medical help and prevent the need for such hysterectomies!
A woman may have never had premenstrual syndrome (PMS) but she suddenly finds she’s experiencing PMS symptoms like irritability, mood swings or migraine headaches in the time preceding their period. Weight gain especially around the midline, is another bothersome symptom! Women complain they’re eating the same as before but they’re gaining weight for no apparent reason. Or diets that previously worked for them have no results!
Other perimenopausal symptoms include insomnia, hot flashes, palpitations, dizzy spells, constipation and fluid retention. The symptoms are similar to menopause but they are milder and often intermittent. This intermittent aspect can present a challenging problem because if the woman is given hormone replacement (HRT) for bad symptoms when her body’s production of estrogen is low, HRT can later cause weight gain and other symptoms when her own estrogen “comes back!”
Each and every woman will go through perimenopause at some time in her life. Educating yourself now and working with an experienced physician who also recognizes these changes will greatly facilitate this time in your life.