Being a woman is a roller coaster of hormones, from the time you get your first period until the day you get the last one (and even after that, really).
Even though it’s often easy to see where you are on that journey and even how well you’re buckled in, sometimes it gets a bit murky as to whether or not you’ve entered a new stage of womanhood. Perimenopause is one of those grey areas for many women, but there are some signs that make it easier to know where you are.
Signs and Symptoms of Perimenopause
Perimenopause starts four to five years before menopause, on average, and signals the beginning of the end of your fertility.
For many women, this important stage happens in their 40s, but others may experience it as early as their late 30s. There’s no right time to experience perimenopause, but there are certain signs that come with it that can be fairly unmistakable when considered together.
These four are vital to watch for:
- Irregular periods. Although other conditions can cause irregular periods, perimenopause certainly will. As your estrogen levels become less consistent, you’ll find that your periods sort of happen when they happen.
According to Michelle Warren, medical director for the Center of Menopause, Hormonal Disorders and Women’s Health at Columbia University, not getting your period for three months straight (if you had regular periods before perimenopause) typically signals that menopause is close. “You’ll likely stop having periods within a year,” she told Prevention Magazine.
- Hot flashes. Oh, to be a woman and be perimenopausal! Hot flashes are the iconic symptom of menopause, but they actually can start long before that. The spontaneous heat and sweating that are characteristic of these episodes are thought to be caused by transient dilation of blood vessels near the surface of the body due to your declining estrogen levels.
Night sweats, the nocturnal version of hot flashes, can occur as often as once an hour and tend to awaken women from sleep, resulting in insomnia, irritability and depression.
- Decreased libido. During perimenopause, you may reach a point where you’re just not feeling it. This is partially to do with symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, and partially because your ovaries are also producing less progesterone, leaving you high and dry when it comes to interest in your spouse or partner.
In addition to simple disinterest, you may find that sex has become painful or experience vaginal dryness. This is because of changes in the vagina that can cause the cells lining it to dry out. Blood flow to this organ may also be reduced, which can alter sensation as well.
- Changes in your cholesterol levels. Surprisingly, perimenopause can even affect your cholesterol levels. Since low estrogen levels can favor an increase in “bad cholesterol,” also known as low density lipoprotein (LDL), and a drop in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), it’s important to have your cholesterol levels checked regularly. These changes could predisposition you to heart disease.
As you approach perimenopause, or if you’re already experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to practice self-care as much as possible. Controlling your weight, exercising at least thirty minutes three times a week and quitting smoking can go a long way to making perimenopause and menopause more comfortable and manageable for you and those people around you. Also, if you can find a way to get more sleep and reduce your stress, those investments will also pay off hugely down the road.