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Most women know about menopause, but what about the stages surrounding this transitional time?
Perimenopause is the phase that comes prior to menopause. During this time, one’s estrogen levels begin to decline significantly. Perimenopause also comes with symptoms similar to menopause, such as hot flashes, mood swings and infertility.
So, what exactly is perimenopause? Read on to learn the signs, symptoms and need-to-know information.
What is perimenopause?
During this stage, women show symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, vaginal dryness and night sweats. One of the main signs of perimenopause is irregular menstrual periods, though many women may also experience regular periods and have other associated symptoms.
Perimenopause is a natural stage of aging that is caused by the decline in the quality and number of one’s eggs. With the decline in eggs, hormone levels fluctuate, and one’s menstrual period becomes more irregular. The perimenopausal stage continues until one’s menstrual cycle stops completely, and the menopausal stage commences.
How is perimenopause different from menopause?
Menopause is the stage that follows perimenopause.
While women may experience irregular menstrual periods during perimenopause, menopause marks the time when one’s menstrual period has ended. The average age for starting menopause in Canada is 51.5 years.
During menopause, the associated symptoms may increase in frequency, with 80 per cent of women experiencing one or more symptoms.
However, once hormone levels lower, the symptoms of menopause typically improve or go away entirely.
At what age does perimenopause start?
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 in Canada, perimenopause begins four years before one’s last period, or around age 47.
While every woman is different, some cases of early perimenopause are due to lifestyle choices or medical treatments. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are two medical treatments associated with early menopause.
Additionally, smoking, low body fat and genetic or autoimmune diseases are linked to early menopause. After an oophorectomy procedure in which both ovaries are removed, sudden menopause also begins.
What are the symptoms of perimenopause?
Perimenopause shares many of the same symptoms as menopause. Some of the symptoms of perimenopause include:
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
The symptoms of perimenopause range from mild to severe, with some women needing medical treatment to navigate their symptoms. These treatments include hormone replacement treatments, antidepressants and medications that target specific symptoms like hot flashes.
Make sure to consult with a healthcare professional prior to starting any new medication, and to learn whether one of these treatments may be right for you.
When to call a doctor
More severe symptoms may need a doctor’s attention. Contact your doctor if you are experiencing any of the following:
Unusually heavy, irregular or prolonged menstrual periods
Bleeding between menstrual periods
Bleeding after having no periods for over six months
Bleeding while on hormones
Severe insomnia, hot flashes or mood swings that are interfering with your daily life
Vaginal pain or dryness
Signs of a urinary tract infection
The bottom line
Perimenopause is a natural stage in a woman’s life, and it should not be feared. While the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause can be uncomfortable, it's not forever.
If you are experiencing symptoms of perimenopause, talk to your doctor to decide if any treatments might be right for you to help you navigate these changes.