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Typically around middle age, you’ll stop getting your period. Menopause happens when you haven’t gotten a period for a year. But leading up to menopause, people usually go through perimenopause — and often have some of the same symptoms associated with menopause. It can be a confusing and frustrating time. Both are the result of decreased hormone levels, but the two are different. Here's how: 

What is perimenopause? 

Perimenopause means the time leading up to menopause when you may start having symptoms, as the estrogen (hormone) levels in your body start to change. Perimenopause usually starts in your 40s, and may last anywhere from a few months to 8 years or more. 

Menopause typically begins when you’re in your late 40s or early 50s, but can also result from  medical reasons — including certain cancer treatments or surgical removal of your ovaries.

What are the signs of perimenopause? 

Symptoms are different for everybody. You may begin to notice changes in your menstrual cycle   — periods could start to get further apart or closer together. You’ll have less of a chance of getting pregnant during perimenopause, but pregnancy can still happen. So if you’ve been using birth control to help make sure you don’t get pregnant, don’t stop. 

Many common perimenopause symptoms are similar to menopause signs. For example, hot flashes may occur — when your body feels very hot for brief periods of time, and night sweats. Some people experience mood changes, anxiety, problems sleeping, vaginal dryness, and less interest in sex. 

Not only cis women experience perimenopause and menopause. Some trans and nonbinary people experience these changes, as well. 

How can I treat perimenopause symptoms? 

Sometimes relief from perimenopause symptoms can come from diet and exercise changes. And some people find that non-Western healing practices are helpful — like homeopathy, acupuncture, and herbal treatments. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough research to know whether these things really work. If your perimenopause symptoms are really bothering you, you may want to visit a nurse or doctor for help. Planned Parenthood health centers offer treatment for perimenopause and menopause symptoms — you can make an appointment today.

A nurse or doctor may suggest certain medicines based on your symptoms and medical history. And they may give you a prescription for antidepressants or hormone therapies to manage your symptoms. 

Two changes you may not notice but might be happening inside your body are weaker bones and changing cholesterol levels. A nurse or doctor can give you a bone density test to see if you have a higher risk of the bone disorder, osteoporosis, and a cholesterol blood test to see if you have a higher chance of heart disease. 

Definitely make an appointment with a nurse or doctor if you have extremely heavy bleeding during your periods, bleeding between periods, and/or your periods last longer than seven days or are less than 21 days apart. 

What comes after perimenopause? 

Menopause! Read more about the symptoms you’ll experience in menopause. Spoiler alert: a lot of them are the same as perimenopause symptoms. 

Tags: sex, menstruation, perimenopause, menopause, sex education, Sexual Health