Pulling Back the Curtain on Perimenopause
he phenomenon called perimenopause is frequently misunderstood. In fact, many women quickly assume they’re going through menopause as opposed to perimenopause. So, what’s the deal? What is perimenopause exactly? What is happening during this time in a woman’s life? In this article, we’re going to pull back the curtains when it comes to perimenopause and examine what’s happening beneath the surface.
What exactly is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause literally translates to “around menopause.” Typically, in the medical and health community, this refers to the time between when a woman first notices certain symptoms and when a woman no longer has a period. Technically, menopause marks the time when a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 months. If this hasn’t happened yet, you’re likely experiencing perimenopause.
After the age of 35, fertility begins to rapidly decline. By your mid-40s, the body begins to transition into what many women refer to as a “second puberty,” or perimenopause.
The timeline of perimenopause can drastically vary from woman to woman. For some, perimenopause can take place over 10 years. For others, it might only last a few months, with the average duration lasting about three to four years. So, what’s happening in the body during this time?
Digging Deeper: Hormonal Variations During Perimenopause
Experts tend to agree that hormonal changes play a significant role in perimenopause. During a woman’s reproductive years, the menstrual cycle is usually very predictable. Estrogen and progesterone, two of the main female sex hormones, rise and fall at fairly set intervals. Undeniably, stress and health issues can interfere with this predictability. Yet, most women can predictably track their cycles.
Towards the end of a woman’s reproductive years, researchers theorise that there is a decline in responsive follicles, meaning they don’t respond as well to pituitary hormones, specifically the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and the luteinizing hormone (LH). This means follicles in the ovaries don’t fully mature and are less likely to release an egg for fertilisation.
As a result, there is a decline in progesterone (Progesterone increases in the later phases of a woman’s cycle due to the corpus luteum, which is what is left behind after a follicle has released an egg. This hormone, along with estrogen, helps prepare your body for pregnancy by thickening the lining of the uterus.) and estrogen, and a rise in FSH and LH.
This is typically when symptoms begin to arise. Surprisingly, the exact cause of hot flashes and other symptoms isn’t known.
However, theories do often revolve around the likelihood of hypothalamic dysfunction caused by hormonal irregularities, such as those described above.
Your hypothalamus is the part of your brain that controls appetite, weight, and temperature. Thus, it might come as no surprise that some of the most common perimenopausal symptoms include hot flashes, weight gain, irritability, and insomnia.
Additionally, other perimenopause symptoms include:
- Irregular periods
- Breast tenderness
- A low libido
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory issues
- Hair changes
- Muscle aches.
What Can You Do About Perimenopause?
Both perimenopause and menopause are going to happen to every woman, whether they want it to or not. However, there are various ways you can support your body before and during this time. Most of these strategies come down to supporting your health in the best way possible, including:
- Eating a healthy, balanced, and nutritious diet.
- Limiting alcohol
- Quitting smoking
- Staying active and participating in resistance training
- Keeping a consistent sleep schedule
- Practicing stress reduction techniques
- Using lubricants to ease vaginal dryness
You may also want to consider talking to your doctor about hormonal therapies to help you transition with ease through this time in your life. However, it’s important to note that these hormonal therapies should often be used in conjunction with healthy lifestyle improvements.
Perimenopause doesn’t have to be scary. Understanding the process and supporting your body and health can go a long way when it comes to transitioning through this time in your life with ease. So you can continue to lead your best life in every phase at any age.