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There are very few guarantees in life, for women one of those guarantees is experiencing menstruation and then menopause as we age; but have you ever heard of perimenopause?
WHAT IS IT?
Perimenopause can be considered the transition into full on menopause. During perimenopause you still experience periods, whereas with menopause periods completely stop. The perimenopause cycle usually begins several years before a woman will experience full menopause, during this time periods become irregular and unpredictable.
The cause of perimenopause can be linked to your body’s production of estrogen and progesterone. As it’s the transitional time to menopause your levels of these hormones rise and fall which can result in a variety of symptoms that vary from person to person.
Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe outlines some symptoms that women may experience during their journey to menopause and which ones we should be extra mindful of.
Most women will experience hot flashes during perimenopause. The intensity, length and frequency vary.
Lower levels of progesterone can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Hot flashes can also disrupt sleep.
Risk for depression and anxiety is higher during the time around menopause. This may be caused by changing hormones, menopausal symptoms, or both.
Vaginal and bladder problems
When your estrogen levels diminish, your vaginal tissues may lose lubrication and elasticity, making intercourse painful. Low estrogen may also leave you more vulnerable to urinary or vaginal infections. Loss of tissue tone may contribute to urinary incontinence.
Changes in sexual function
During perimenopause, sexual arousal and desire may change. But if you had satisfactory sexual intimacy before menopause, this will likely continue through perimenopause and beyond.
Changing cholesterol levels
Declining estrogen may lead to unfavourable changes in your blood cholesterol levels, including an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol, which contributes to an increased risk of heart disease. At the same time, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol, decreases in many women as they age, which also increases the risk of heart disease.
As ovulation becomes more unpredictable, the length of time between periods may be longer or shorter, your flow may be light to heavy, and you may skip some periods.
Your bone density can decrease due to lowering estrogen levels. This is not a noticeable change but does happen through perimenopause/post-menopause.
Diagnosing perimenopause can be tricky as there is no one test or sign that tells us if we’ve entered the transitional stages. The best thing is to check-in with your doctor when you start to see changes to your body that appear menopausal – your doctor should review your history, age, symptoms and menstrual history before guiding you through these changes.
Dr. Sheila reminds us to be mindful that some symptoms of perimenopause can mimic symptoms of other conditions such as depression/anxiety and thyroid disease leading your doctor to test for these as well.
HOW TO EASE YOUR TRANSITION
Here are some Dr. Sheila recommended ways to help ease your transition into menopause:
- Regular exercise – At least 30 minutes a day.
- Quit smoking
- Get more sleep – Try going to sleep and waking up around the same time every day.
- Drink less alcohol – Alcohol can worsen hot flashes.
- Get to a healthy weight – Weight gain is common during menopause and most women see an average of 10 pounds gained.
- Get enough calcium – For bone health.
- For vaginal discomfort – Lubricants! Staying sexually active also helps to increase flow to the vagina and can help with atrophy.
Ultimately, there’s no avoiding menopause it’s just what all women have to go through at some point in their lives. But, we can take precautions to ensure good health as we age. That means contacting your doctor if anything about your health seems irregular, as well as leading a naturally healthy and good life as best you can.