By Mia Abrahams
Who remembers puberty? Your body doing a whole lot of random shit you weren’t expecting, while you wonder what the hell is going on. Fun, right? Well puberty might be over (thank G), but that doesn’t mean our hormones have chilled out for good. As we get older, there is another phase to look forward to — perimenopause. (Or, as Dr. Marcelle Pick calls it “puberty in reverse!”)
There’s good news and well, just “okay” news. The okay (bad) news: Symptoms include irregular periods, spotting between periods, hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes… for some women, the winding down of ovarian function can come with a whole raft of new hormonal craziness to deal with. And, as babygirl Aaliyah sung, “age ain’t nothing but a number,” especially when it comes to perimenopausal symptoms. While the symptoms usually start in your 40s, they can begin as early as your 30s. The good news? Not everyone experiences symptoms, and even if you do, it’s just a phase!!
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the transition period in a woman's reproductive life — before menopause (defined as a full year without a period) — where your ovarian function starts to wax and wane. Remember our hormonal cycles? During perimenopause, your ovaries produce less estrogen, causing your cycles to shorten, and your periods become less regular. The closer to menopause you get, the less estrogen you produce — many of the classic menopause symptoms we think of are a result of estrogen withdrawal. On average, this lasts 4 or 5 years.
What are perimenopausal symptoms?
Perimenopausal symptoms are about as predictable as the American presidential elections. You might find yourself experiencing one symptom one month, and another the next. Some of the key signs are skipping periods, irregular bleeding, spotting between periods, heavier or lighter flow than usual, hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and night sweats. You may also be gaining weight, losing hair, or feeling fatigued.
How can you know if this is what’s happening to you?
Because of perimenopause’s unpredictability, and the fact that everyone’s symptoms are different (like a really shitty snowflake!), it can be tough to work out whether your symptoms are due to ovarian function decreasing, or from something else, like a thyroid problem.
Our fave ob/gyn, Dr. Angela, says that hormone tests aren’t a reliable way to diagnose perimenopause (I know… bummer). Usually, she knows that a woman is jumping on that menopause train by ruling out any other potential issues (like thyroid problems). If your symptoms are preventing you from going about your usual everyday ish, then that is a red flag, and a sign you should get things checked out (also: check out our blog on what to do if your PMS symptoms are holding you back from your usual routine). There is also a genetic link, so the same way you may have gotten your period around the same time as your mom, you may end up going through perimenopause at a similar age.
So, what can you do to ease or deal with the symptoms?
Well there’s a magic spell you can do… No, JK. Lifestyle changes are where it’s at! (But also please hit me up if you do have any hormonal witchcraft / sage burning techniques.) Exercise, keeping your room cool with AC and fans, and layering clothes can help with night sweats. Many women find birth control pills (which level out your hormones) help keep their periods and other symptoms in check. What else? Lube or vaginal estrogen creams can help with dryness. Making sure you’re getting enough sleep, adding meditation into your nighttime routine, and staying away from triggers like alcohol, cigarettes, and spicy foods can also help ease symptoms. There are also medical options, which you can discuss with your doc. (Or, get yourself a menopause fort!)
Also, here’s a fun (not fun) fact. One sure way to prevent perimenopause from starting early: butt it out! A Norwegian study found that women who smoke are 59% more likely to have reached menopause before age 45. Reason #2058 to give up smoking.
Dr. Angela also wants to debunk a common myth— just because you are going through perimenopause, doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant!!! Make sure that it’s not on, unless it’s *on*, you feel me? (aka. wrap it up ladies!)
Let’s talk about sweats baby!
Although there may still be a stigma that surrounds menopause, or it might feel like an uncomfortable conversation (particularly if you feel you are “too young” for the whole experience), as Dr. Angela reminds us: it’s just a phase! It will get better! There are healthcare professionals who you can talk to, and who can help you get through this tricky period. The more we talk about it, the less taboo it is.
Are you experiencing perimenopause? Any tips, tricks, or complaints? Let me know!