What is Perimenopause?

As there isn’t enough awareness of the menopause…

…it’s safe to say that people really don’t know enough about perimenopause. So what is it? Perimenopause begins (on average) four years before the menopause and lasts until the menopause begins. This is the time when your body gradually begins to make less estrogen. Menopausal symptoms, such as fatigue, hot flushes, loss of libido, and trouble sleeping, are common during perimenopause. For some, perimenopause can be a relatively painless transition into the menopause. But for others, perimenopause severely affects their body, mind, and life.

…it’s important to be well-informed and aware of perimenopausal symptoms, not to scare yourself but just to make sure that you’re prepared for whatever may come.

Perimenopause can be a difficult time, particularly because it’s the first step into the menopause and it’s hard to diagnose. During the menopause, blood tests can usually confirm that you’re menopausal by testing for low hormone levels. However, especially for the first few years of perimenopause, your hormone levels fluctuate so a blood test might not immediately provide you with an answer. Yet, perimenopausal symptoms can be very painful and uncomfortable, which can come as a shock to many! As it can be hard to diagnose, many perimenopausal women won’t be put on HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) or given adequate treatment for their symptoms, which of course only makes the transition worse. Additionally, perimenopause can start occurring even 10 years before the menopause starts, when the menopause is absolutely not on your radar. As always, it’s important to be well-informed and aware of perimenopausal symptoms, not to scare yourself but just to make sure that you’re prepared for whatever may come.

Firstly, perimenopause often starts with irregular periods. Until you’ve gone a full 12 months without your period, you’re perimenopausal, and therefore will still experience periods (and of course, can still get pregnant). But your menstrual cycle is likely to change. It’s not just shorter, lighter periods. It can be heavier, longer, late, early or even skipped periods! It can fluctuate and differ every month, and if you have PMS, the symptoms can worsen. These changes are a clearer sign of perimenopause (compared to say, mood swings or trouble sleeping), and should providing an indication of perimenopause. Likewise, dryness (especially eye dryness) and weight-gain (around your waist) are similarly some of the first symptoms of perimenopause. Nonetheless, everyone experiences perimenopause differently, and the symptoms are similar to those of the menopause.

It’s best not to go through years of misdiagnosis, assuming your symptoms are indicative of more serious mental or physical conditions…

What’s most important is to be aware and prepared. It’s never nice to tell someone that they might have a bad experience, and the goal here isn’t to frighten you! Again, perimenopause is very difficult to diagnose, so treatment for symptoms might not come until later if you’re not aware. The more you know about perimenopause, the easier it will be. Ultimately, perimenopause can be quite difficult for some women and for others, it can be a walk in the park, but it’s better to be overprepared even if you end up feeling fine throughout. It’s best not to go through years of misdiagnosis, assuming your symptoms are indicative of more serious mental or physical conditions such as depression or cancer, for example. That doesn’t mean not considering more serious diagnoses, but rather being aware of how early perimenopause can start and how severe it can get.

If you’re keen on getting an official diagnosis from the GP, you can go in for multiple blood tests to check your hormone levels. If throughout the year, they’re significantly fluctuating or gradually decreasing, it’s a good sign you’re perimenopausal. That said, many GPs may be reluctant to give you multiple blood tests, so listen to your body and pay attention to your symptoms and consider perimenopause. When you know the cause of your pains and troubles, it can often be a major relief. Perimenopause can last a long time, so don’t let years go to waste without seeking treatment or help!


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