Are you going through “the change?”
You’re a woman in your 40s moving through the hustle and bustle of life. You start to notice some changes in your health and wonder what the cause could be.
And then it hits you: I wonder if I’m going through menopause?
Menopause is defined as the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs and a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without having her period.
Perimenopause is the name for the transition to menopause that can begin several years before menopause. While perimenopause typically starts in a woman’s 40s and lasts four years, it can start in a woman’s 30s or even her 20s and last only a few months or continue for 10 years. During this time, the ovaries gradually begin to produce less estrogen and in the last one to two years of perimenopause, the drop in estrogen speeds up and many women start to notice menopause symptoms.
Typical symptoms of perimenopause include:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Weight gain
- Thinning hair
- Dry skin
- Breast tenderness
- More frequent or severe headaches
- Mood swings
- Decreased sex drive
- Vaginal dryness and/or discomfort during sex
- Urine leakage when coughing or sneezing
- An urgent need to urinate more frequently
- Trouble sleeping
- Heart palpitations
“While women going through perimenopause experience some of these normal symptoms, other conditions can cause troublesome changes that are not typical,” says Dr. Sophia Rodriguez, an OB/GYN with Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. She recommends you make an appointment with your physician if:
- Your periods have blood clots
- Your periods are much heavier and/or longer than usual
- You spot between periods
- You spot after sex
- Your periods happen more frequently
- Your headaches are debilitating
Dr. Rodriguez says to talk to your physician about options for relief for hot flashes, headaches, sleep issues and other perimenopause symptoms. She also cautions the importance of continued birth control use.
“Fertility during perimenopause is decreasing, but it is still possible to become pregnant,” says Dr. Rodriguez. “If you don’t want to get pregnant, it’s important that you continue to use birth control until you have gone 12 months without having your period.”
About the Author
Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”