Written by Clare Widzgowski
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the transitional period before menopause. While menopause is defined as the 12-month span without a menstrual cycle, perimenopause is the period of time leading up to menopause where hormones, such as estrogen, begin to decrease. Many of the symptoms of menopause are present in perimenopause, but they can be irregular and it can be difficult to tell if they are related to perimenopause or something else. While there are no tell-tale signs of perimenopause, here are some to be on the lookout for.
First Symptoms of Perimenopause
The average age of menopause is 51 years old and perimenopause on average begins 4 years prior, around ages 45-46 years old. However, some women experience perimenopause symptoms in their mid 30s. If you are a smoker, have a family history of early perimenopause, have or are undergoing cancer treatment, or have had a hysterectomy then you may experience early perimenopause and menopause. When you are in the age range, be attentive to your body and any symptoms you are experiencing as it may be perimenopause.
Common First Symptoms
Often, the first symptom of perimenopause is changes to your menstrual cycle or irregular periods. In early perimenopause, your cycle may swing up to 7 days, meaning if before your cycle was 28 days, now it could be 21 or 35 days long. In late perimenopause, your period could come as infrequently as every two months. When you do have your period, your flow may be heavier than usual and you may experience more breast tenderness.
Another common symptom is hot flashes. Due to decreasing estrogen levels, your brain has a more difficult time regulating your internal body temperature, leading to intense hot flashes that raise your heart rate and cause you to sweat. Hot flashes can cause night sweats and sleep disturbances also common in perimenopause. It is estimated that up to 80% of women experience hot flashes to some degree, so if you are experiencing them, it may be a sign you are in perimenopause.
You may also experience changes in libido and sexual function. Without estrogen, the vaginal tissue begins to lose elasticity and lubrication, which can make sexual intercourse painful. Thinning of the vaginal walls can also lead to incontinence and more frequent UTIs.
If you want a definitive answer to if you are in perimenopause or not, there are some tests that can help. Follicle stimulating hormone, FSH, is the hormone that causes estrogen production. When estrogen levels are low, high levels of FSH are released to raise estrogen levels. However, once in perimenopause and eventually menopause, FSH levels remain high. An FSH or estrogen test could indicate you have started the menopausal transition.
Perimenopause is a natural and often gradual transitional period with no strict starting point. If you are approaching mid-age, you may want to be on the lookout for changes in your body. There are many symptoms that could indicate your are in perimenopause and each person experiences different symptoms, to varying degrees, at different times. If you have questions or concerns if you are in perimenopause, speak with a medical professional.
Disclaimer: At It’sFetch.co we strive to provide valuable and reliable health information through our blog. We believe in empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their health and well-being. However, it is important to understand that the content on our blog is not intended to replace the advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a qualified medical professional.