Perimenopause - the life-phase nobody tells you about
When it comes to the incredible experiences women's bodies go through, there are several significant words that begin with 'p' - periods, puberty, and pregnancies. These concepts are widely known, and many of us have a good understanding of what they entail.
However, there is another essential 'p-word' related to women's unique biology that hasn't received as much attention - Perimenopause.
Perimenopause is the transitional phase that occurs before menopause. It is important to note that perimenopause is not the same as menopause itself.
Menopause marks the end of fertility and occurs when a woman's ovaries, the small glands responsible for producing eggs and hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone), retire. As a result, the ovaries stop releasing eggs and producing hormones, leading to the cessation of menstrual periods. Menopause typically happens around the age of 51, but the last period can occur anywhere between the ages of 45 and 55, which is considered within the normal range.
Before reaching menopause, the ovaries give a notice period, during which they gradually decrease their activity. This phase is known as perimenopause and can vary greatly in duration, lasting anywhere from two to ten years. It can be likened to a reverse puberty, as the ovaries slow down instead of starting up. While perimenopause usually begins in the 40s, some women may experience it as early as their mid to late 30s.
During perimenopause, the ovaries have not completely ceased functioning, but they may struggle to release an egg each month (ovulate) or produce sufficient hormones to prompt menstrual bleeding. Consequently, irregularities in menstrual patterns may occur. Periods can become heavier, longer, lighter, shorter, more frequent, or less frequent. Perimenopause can be a turbulent phase for some women.
However, for others, their periods may remain unchanged, giving no indication of the transition into perimenopause. It's important to note that having regular periods does not necessarily mean a woman is not experiencing perimenopause. While the ovaries may still produce enough hormones to prompt menstrual bleeding, they may not be producing enough for their other essential functions.
This is because the hormones produced by the ovaries have a widespread impact throughout the body and brain. They influence bones, muscles, nerve cells, skin, the immune system, blood vessels, and more. Fluctuations and changes in hormone levels during perimenopause can result in various symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, itchy skin, dry eyes, palpitations, dizziness, loss of sex drive, hot flushes, muscle and joint aches, and vaginal dryness. Symptoms can vary in severity, and some women may worry that they have a serious illness or are losing their sanity.
Just as every woman's menstrual cycle and pregnancy experience is unique, perimenopause is also an individual journey. Some women breeze through this phase with minimal disruption, while others may face more challenges. We are all different and experience perimenopause uniquely.
The key is to be aware of the approaching perimenopause phase and be prepared for it. Tracking menstrual cycles can help detect subtle changes. Taking care of your body through a balanced diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and effective stress relief is essential in entering this phase of life feeling strong and ready.
If you find yourself experiencing a challenging or stressful perimenopause journey, remember that you don't have to suffer in silence. Talk about it, read about it, and seek help or support from your doctor if needed. Although this life phase may throw you off balance temporarily, you will soon regain your footing, allowing you and your ovaries to enjoy a long and fulfilling retirement.