You’re in your 40s, and you start noticing changes in your body. You’re constantly hot and cold, you’re moody, your periods are becoming irregular, you’re bloated, your skin is a mess, you’ve noticed vaginal changes, and it’s all driving you up the wall!
So what on earth is going on?
Ladies, welcome to Perimenopause
Perimenopause is the stage before natural menopause. This stage usually occurs in your 40s, can last around 2-10 years, and those horrid symptoms that you may be familiar with happen in this stage.
Why is this happening?
The symptoms associated with menopause are caused by the fluctuations of your hormones.
There are 3 main hormones that are relevant to menopause.
Estrogen, which is broken down into 3 groups (estradiol, estrone, and estriol). This hormone is produced in the ovaries and plays a massive role in the female body. It is essential in the growth and development of female sexual characteristics, regulation of your menstrual cycle and reproductive system, and it also plays a role in regulating your body’s temperature all the way to keeping your bones healthy.
Your main menopause symptoms are mostly caused from the fluctuations of this hormone.
Next we have progesterone. This hormone helps to maintain pregnancies and implant an egg to the uterus. Progesterone is only produced if an egg is released, and its release usually prepares the uterus for a fertilized egg and pregnancy.
And finally, we have testosterone. We usually associate this as the male hormone, but women produce some of it in the ovaries and the adrenal glands. In the female body, testosterone plays a role in a woman’s sexual desire, arousal, as well as bone and muscle strength. Rather than suddenly dropping at menopause like the other two, testosterone actually decreases gradually with age.
Stages of Menopause
The first stage as mentioned earlier, is perimenopause. This is the stage before natural menopause, and known as the transition period into menopause. You will start to notice changes in your 40s. This stage can last 2-10 years and is often the time when women begin to experience the symptoms of menopause due to your estrogen levels swinging erratically from high to low.
Then we have menopause. You’ll only know you’re in menopause if you haven’t had a period in 12 months. It can be quite difficult to know when your last period is. You can have perimenopause symptoms and have your periods stop for several months, and then have a period again, which means the countdown to menopause starts again.
This stage occurs at around 51-52 years of age. There’s no accurate test to diagnose menopause. Blood tests can measure your hormones, however, these levels can differ depending on the time of day, and the day of your cycle the blood was taken.
The best test is to use the symptoms you have as a guide to whether you are close to menopause. Menopause is technically a one day event. Once you haven’t had your period for 12 months, you are considered in postmenopause.
Which brings us to the final stage of this life transition. It is the time after menopause and occurs 12 months after the final period. It is common to experience menopause symptoms in this stage, and the length of these symptoms will vary with each woman.
There are certain events which can bring on premature menopause and early menopause. Premature menopause occurs when a woman has had her final period before the age of 40, and early menopause is when a woman has had her final period before the age of 45. Both of these stages can occur as a result of induced menopause (either from radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy, surgery, family history, or other causes).
Culture and Menopause
There has been research to suggest that menopause can vary between culture to culture. Women in western cultures have more complaints of menopausal symptoms than those from Asian cultures. This could have something to do with dietary patterns, or women from some cultures may not discuss menopause as openly as those from western cultures.
Society and Menopause
There is a lot of pressure in our society with ageing, especially women, to maintain a youthful appearance. Representatives of older women are quite limited, or there are negative or stereotypical representations of older women, which may impact how a woman perceives or experiences ageing and menopause, regardless of how natural this life stage is.
So what can you do to transition into menopause smoothly? Every woman is different, and will experience the transition in their own. This may be due to different factors such as their relationships (partner, family, friends; whether they are stressful or joyous), where they are in their stage of life (have a great work/life balance, or struggling to hold things together), and general level of health and wellbeing. A great place to start is by introducing a healthy lifestyle.
Eat a well balanced and nutritious diet, and reduce stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. Studies have shown that smoking actually brings on earlier menopause of up to 1-4 years than non smokers.
Exercise 4-5 times a day for at least 30 minutes, and try to maintain a healthy weight. There is an increased risk of developing osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease with the decrease in levels of estrogen. Exercise will maintain your healthy heart and ensure your bone integrity.
Try to reduce the levels of stress in your life. Stress can actually exacerbate menopause symptoms. Reduction in stress can reduce the intensity in some menopausal symptoms. Try some stress reducing techniques such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness and breathing techniques.
Women who make their lifestyle as healthy as they can appear to have less menopause symptoms, and symptoms are also less severe.
If you are concerned with any of your symptoms related to menopause, speak to your health care professional for further advice.
New Life Stage, New You
Menopause marks the beginning of a new phase in a woman’s life which may bring new and exciting opportunities and experiences. For a lot of women, it prompts them to take back their lives and set new goals! A lot of women have put others before them, but now is the time to put yourselves first again!