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Menopause is no secret to most people, and it's something nearly every woman will experience upon age. And while the transitional stage of perimenopause can sometimes catch some by surprise, it doesn't have to be a completely confusing time.
Gwyneth Paltrow, 51, recently opened up to People about her "rollercoaster" experience with perimenopause, and how she's glad there's been a cultural change in talking about it since it was "not the case" in her mother's generation.
"It used to be so full of shame and it's just another chapter for us," the Oscar-winning actress says.
"It's nothing to be hidden. I think it's great, and I'm so happy that there's a community now."
I'm glad that there is a big change in the culture and women are talking about this now.Gwyneth Paltrow
For the "Shakespeare in Love" star, she first noticed a "shift" in her body around age 45 but notes it often felt like "losing your mind" since menopause isn't often discussed.
"I just thought it was so strange that there was nowhere that I could go to understand if everything I was going through was normal," Paltrow shares.
"My best advice is that every woman really needs to contemplate what is the right way for her. For me, I've been really trying to focus on having a very well-functioning gut and liver so that these excess hormones can be flushed out of the body and cause less symptoms."
But what exactly is perimenopause and should you be concerned about this transitional stage? Read on to learn more about its signs, symptoms and how it affects women worldwide.
What is perimenopause and what is it caused by?
Perimenopause is the period before menopause. For some women, the perimenopause period is only a few months. But typically, it's a stage that lasts anywhere from two to eight years, according to MyHealth Alberta.
It's a natural stage of aging that's caused when a woman's eggs decline in quality and quantity. As such, estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate and makes one's menstrual period more irregular. Perimenopause continues until a person's menstrual cycle fully stops, at which point menopause would begin.
When does perimenopause begin?
Some women show signs of perimenopause as early as their late 30s. For other women, perimenopause can start as late as their early 50s. On average, it begins four years before a person's last period, which is usually around age 47.
What are the signs and symptoms of perimenopause?
Perimenopause shares many of the same symptoms as menopause, including:
Irregular menstrual cycle
Hot flashes, flushes or power surges
Fluctuating estrogen levels
Urinary tract infections
Increase in premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms
Osteoporosis or bone loss
Increase in heart rate
Changes in skin elasticity
Some women may also experience depression during perimenopause or menopause. Those who have experienced postpartum depression are also more likely to also experience depression at this time.
How is perimenopause different from menopause?
After perimenopause, a woman enters menopause. That's described as a full year without having a menstrual period, according to the Menopause Foundation of Canada, whereas perimenopause may feature irregular periods.
In Canada, menopause typically begins around 51 years old— but it can occur before or after this age.
During menopause, the associated symptoms may increase in frequency, with 80 per cent of women experiencing one or more symptoms. But once hormone levels lower, menopause symptoms typically improve or go away entirely. Postmenopause is the stage considered once a woman reaches menopause and they'll be in that stage for the rest of their life.
When to call a doctor
More severe symptoms may need a doctor's attention. If someone's experiencing unusually heavy or prolonged menstrual periods, bleeding between periods, bleeding after having no period for more than six months or severe insomnia or hot flashes, it might be a good idea to contact a health care provider.