You’re hot, you’re moody, and you can’t remember the last time you got a good night’s sleep, let alone where you left your keys. Welcome to the club, you’re in perimenopause!
Wait? Aren’t those the symptoms of menopause? Nope. When most women think of the meaning of menopause, they really aren’t thinking of menopause at all. They are thinking about perimenopause, a time that can begin in your late 30s or early 40s and reach into your 50s. Perimenopause comes with a host of hormonal changes and lasts anywhere from 6 to 10 years—until you haven’t had your period for a full 12 months in a row. Then you have graduated to menopause! (Sorry, no cap and gown for this one.)
The first step to finding hormone happiness is to ID and track your symptoms. Download my free Menopause Symptoms Chart and start tracking. Each day, chart the frequency, duration, and severity of your perimenopause symptoms. Talk them over with your perimenopause and menopause specialist to learn how to not just mask the symptoms, but treat their underlying cause. Don’t have a perimenopause and menopause specialist? Here are some simple tips to help you find the perfect one near you!
Want to be proactive about your perimenopausal journey? Here are the symptoms to be on the alert for during perimenopause:
Hot flashes, probably the most infamous of perimenopausal symptoms, strike about two-thirds of women during “the change.” During perimenopause and menopause, the levels and balance among estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone begin to fluctuate. When your estrogen levels begin to decrease, they can trigger your body’s thermostat to send a signal that you are overheated. This causes your body to send out an all hands on deck alert: your heart pumps faster, the blood vessels in your skin dilate to circulate more blood to radiate heat, and your sweat glands release sweat to cool you even more. Your body cools down when it otherwise wouldn’t, and you are left feeling miserable: soaking wet in the middle of a board meeting like me or in the middle of a good night’s sleep.
The Fix: Regular exercise, healthy eating, acupuncture, herbal remedies, antidepressant medications, and hormone therapy (HT) are some of the most common options to reduce and even rid your life of hot flashes. Which treatment (or combination of treatments) works for each woman varies. Talk with your specialist about these perimenopause coolers.
If you can’t see through the fog to find your thoughts, you’re not alone. Forgetfulness and other memory difficulties plague between one- and two-thirds of women during perimenopause. Many women even have trouble focusing and manipulating times, prices, and other information in their head.
The Fix: Your brain is the center of your health. Treat it right by first consulting your specialist to test your hormone levels and see if they need tweaking. Then, support the formation of new, healthy brain cells by eating omega-3 fatty acids and exercising regularly. Plus, simple meditation practices and even brain games like Cranium Crunches to help you tap your brain’s potential. Check out the best natural ways to break through brain fog.
Fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels impact neurotransmitters (aka mood regulators) in the brain. While these highs and lows can take most women’s moods for a wild ride, some women—especially those who had severe PMS when they were younger—may be particularly susceptible to unpredictable and ever-changing dispositions during perimenopause.
Fix It: Ditching refined sugar and upping your exercise routine can improve your blood sugar and insulin response to prevent the high-lows that send your family running for cover. If you find yourself in a constant low, hormone therapy (HT) or antidepressants, particularly SSRIs and SNRIs, are incredibly effective at easing depression in perimenopausal women. Learn more ways to keep perimenopause’s mitts off of your mood.
Don’t remember the last time you woke up feeling rested? During perimenopause, levels of progesterone, nature’s Valium, can take a nosedive. Mix in sweat-soaked sheets and soaring stress levels, and what woman would wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed?
Fix It: While natural progesterone treatments can help restore your body’s sleep-well chemicals to the right levels, good sleep habits—establishing a routine, keeping regular hours, only using your bed for sleep…and sex—can also help. Following a Mediterranean diet rich in produce, whole grains, and wine (yay!) has been linked to fewer night sweats, while yoga reduces symptoms of insomnia. Check out more advice for scoring better sleep.
Sure, perimenopause is all about hormones. Problem is, so are most migraines. The silver lining: Two-thirds of female migraine sufferers either reduce or completely ditch their migraines when they have their last period, enter menopause, and their hormones finally stop fluctuating.
The Fix: Talk to your specialist about your symptoms, triggers, and explore your hormone therapy options. When it comes to migraine and headache prevention, estradiol transdermal patches are generally your best bet. Learn more about how you can win the war on migraines.
Between hot flashes, mood swings, and flat-out life as you know it, how could you not suffer perimenopausal stress? But as if stress weren’t bad enough all on its own, it turns out it can also exacerbate hot flashes, sleeplessness, migraines, and even weight gain.
The Fix: While your staple stress-busting tactics (think: bubble baths, exercise, and meditating) can work miracles, you might also need to start saying “no” every now and again. You can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t put yourself on the top of your to-do list! Here are more secrets to slashing stress during perimenopause.
Estrogen is a major player in maintaining the structure of the vaginal wall, elasticity of the tissues around the vagina, and production of vaginal fluid. So when your estrogen dries up, so can your nether region. I like to refer to it as the other ED! Vaginal discomfort can have a negative impact on your relationship with your partner, your sexuality, quality of life, and self-image.
The Fix: When it comes to the vagina, thin is out—and silence is not golden! Vaginal atrophy is a chronic condition and requires ongoing treatment to remedy the underlying cause. Don’t wait! Call your specialist now! Get more tips to save your vagina!
When it comes to women’s health, misinformation abounds. Unfortunately, it’s women who are paying the price. So learn the truth about perimenopause so that you can get the help you need and deserve to lead a happy, healthy life!
My Motto: Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!
Click here to download my free eBook, MENOPAUSE MONDAYS The Girlfriend’s Guide To Surviving and Thriving During Perimenopause and Menopause.
– Ellen Dolgen
Ellen Dolgen is a speaker, author, and health & wellness advocate. Spurred by her own experience struggling with the symptoms of menopause, Ms. Dolgen has spent the last ten years helping other women during this often difficult time. EllenDolgen.com / Menopause Mondays was named first on the list of the “Best Menopause Blogs” by Healthline in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. She has also been #1 on Dr. Oz Sharecare.com Top 10 Social HealthMakers on Menopause.
Ms. Dolgen currently serves on the Community Advisory Board of Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, and has chaired and served on boards and committees for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, San Diego Hospice, Brandeis University, NARAL, the Phoenix Heart Ball, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Weizmann Institute of Science, Angel Charity for Children, Brewster Auxiliary, and Handmaker Home for the Aging. Her favorite title is Grandma.