Perimenopause & Menopause Mini Series 1 - An introduction
Updated: Oct 5, 2022
Perimenopause and menopause are massive life events for women. Seen as a taboo until very recently, discussions and awareness are thankfully welcomed more now than they have ever been. Yet these changes are still misunderstood, misdiagnosed and sometimes ignored. I am a Menopause Coach and my aim is to pass on some sound advice. If you are suffering right now or think you are at the beginning of this journey I want to empower you to recognise what is happening within your own bodies. Providing some confidence to seek help from your GP or a health specialist. Plus if you are reading this but not affected by the menopause personally I hope to arm you with some useful knowledge to be able to understand and support others around you.
In this article I’m going to talk about the difference between perimenopause and menopause and some of the symptoms associated with them.
Almost every women will go through these changes which are caused by long term hormone deficiencies. Ultimately, it’s when we stop having periods because our ovaries stop producing eggs and, as a consequence, our hormone levels of oestrogen and progesterone fall. But this is generally not a smooth transition because our hormones fluctuate rather than fall steadily causing all sorts of issues. It’s really important to say that we must recognise it’s not just women in their forties and fifties that will experience this. Those who are non-binary that were female at birth, trans men who haven’t gone through gender re-assignment surgery, anyone who has had a hysterectomy (uterus removal) and/or oophorectomy (ovary removal) and in rare cases teenagers and even children can also experience these symptoms.
Research has shown that one third of perimenopausal and menopausal women in the UK wait at least a year to receive treatment for their symptoms and for one in ten it takes more than nine doctor appointments to make a diagnosis. This is all whilst experiencing a multitude of symptoms which can cause real suffering. Physical and mental health can decline during this time. We shouldn’t have to endure these changes just because it’s a ‘natural’ process that women go through. With the appropriate treatments and lifestyle changes it can be effectively managed and quality of life can be improved.
What is Perimenopause?
This is when we are experiencing menopausal symptoms due to hormone changes but we still have our periods. Even if these are changing in frequency and nature. The average age to start having perimenopausal symptoms is around forty five. Although everyone’s experience is different. The perimenopause can last for many months or years and can be a rocky road.
What is Menopause?
In Greek it translates as ‘month’ and ‘cease’ and is when we don’t have a period for twelve consecutive months. The average age of menopause is fifty one and forty nine for BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour). But again this can be different from woman to woman. Most people concentrate on the menopause but it’s the perimenopause beforehand which can be really disruptive.
What is Post Menopause?
The time in our life after the period of twelve consecutive months with no period.
What part do Oestrogen & Progesterone play?
For many of us the hormones oestrogen and progesterone work in synergy to regulate the menstrual cycle and produce eggs. They are preparing our bodies for possible pregnancy every month and we experience a period when pregnancy doesn’t happen. As we approach menopause our ovaries make fewer of these hormones and our fertility decreases. Once we are post menopause we can’t become pregnant. Testosterone also has an important role to play in growth, bone mass and maintenance of the female sexual anatomy. So can cause problems when it too starts to decline.
Oestrogen is a big player in keeping our whole bodies running smoothly, not just our menstrual cycle. It directly effects our immunity, mood, muscles, hair and skin to name just a few. So when it starts to fluctuate during the perimenopause and menopause this leads to a deficiency resulting in a whole host of symptoms.
What are the symptoms?
There isn’t a test available that can give us a definitive diagnosis. If you are not feeling quite like your normal self, ‘out of sorts’, experiencing symptoms you haven’t noticed before I would suggest keeping a diary of your mental and physical health or better still use a menopause app to track what’s going on. There are nearly forty different symptoms associated with this period in our lives. It’s not just hot flushes and feeling a bit cranky! Below are many of them although this isn’t an exhaustive list:
· Feeling tense/nervous
· Trouble sleeping
· Dizziness/feeling faint
· Loss of interest in sex
· Muscle and joint aches and pains
· Difficulty concentrating
· Irregular periods
· Heart palpitations
· Tiredness/lack of energy
· Crying frequently
· Feeling irritable
· Stress incontinence
· Skin becomes dry and itchy
· Loss of interest in things
· Hot flushes
· Brittle nails
· Numbness in parts of body
· Vaginal dryness
· Feeling unhappy
· Body odour changes
· Night sweats
· Breathing difficulties
· Memory loss
· Mood swings
· Breast soreness
· Changes in body shape and weight gain
· Recurrent urinary tract infections
· Digestive problems
· Hair loss
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, keep a note of them and read what you can from reliable sources. Make an appointment to see your GP or a health professional armed with your evidence and knowledge.
Here are some useful links:
The 'Balance' Mobile App by Dr Louise Newson to track symptoms etc