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Struggling with irregular periods, extreme bleeding, vaginal dryness, loss of libido or migraine headaches? All of these symptoms could spell the start of the perimenopause.
The precursor to the menopause, perimenopause is a time of transition for women, when the ovaries gradually start to produce less oestrogen.
While symptoms are usually less severe than the menopause, this phase can nevertheless see you suffer from very real symptoms, including irregular periods, changes in mood and hot flushes. Here’s everything you need to know:
What is perimenopause?
‘Menopause occurs when the ovaries stop releasing eggs,’ explains Aly Dilks, clinical director for The Women’s Health Clinic. ‘By definition, menopause is diagnosed in hindsight – the absence of periods for one year is diagnostic of menopause. But we all know our bodies don’t work like a switch – on one day and off the next.’
‘For a few years preceding menopause, our ovaries start running out of eggs, and release them on and off,’ adds Dilks. ‘Hence irregular periods are very common before menopause, and this period is known as perimenopause. There is no ‘golden age’ that perimenopause starts, as it’s more of a gradual process. The majority of women go into perimenopause less than five years before menopause.’
What are the symptoms of perimenopause?
Perimenopause symptoms can be similar to the menopause, albeit usually less frequent or severe. Abbas Kanani, pharmacist at Chemist Click, offers this checklist of symptoms:
- Irregular periods: this is the most common sign of perimenopause, as your ovulation pattern starts to vary.
- Insomnia: sleepless nights may be as a result of hot flushes, but can also be caused by emotional changes.
- Decreased libido: lower levels of oestrogen during this time can mean you lose your appetite for sex.
- Uncomfortable sex: this is due to a decrease in oestrogen levels, which means the vagina doesn’t lubricate well. TRY THIS!
- Changes in mood: lower oestrogen levels means less serotonin (one of the ‘feel-good’ hormones), which can lead to your emotions being thrown off balance.
- Increase in cholesterol: as oestrogen levels decline, HDL (good cholesterol) also experiences a decline, which can have a negative impact on cholesterol levels.
- Hot flushes: these are not as common as they are in menopause, but they can still happen.
Can you treat perimenopause naturally?
The good news is with just a few simple lifestyle adjustments you can sail through this phase of your life. Kanani offers the following advice:
Lower oestrogen levels can cause ‘feel-good’ hormones, such as serotonin, to drop. Fitness can have a positive impact on your mood and help to stabilise your emotions. Regular exercise can also have a positive impact on your sleep quality, as well as helping you to feel re-energised.
🔹 Eat well
Not only will eating a healthy and balanced diet help to reduce your cholesterol level and provide you with the right nutrients, but it will also help you feel good about yourself. Certain foods, such as caffeine and alcohol, can trigger hot flushes and affect your mood, so try to avoid these.
This is often undervalued in perimenopause, but you are essentially entering into a new stage of your life where your body is experiencing changes. It’s important to recognises this, so take a few minutes each day to meditate and change your frame of mind. Coming to terms with these changes increases your chance of winning the mental battle. Being still and focusing on your breathing allows your thoughts to settle, helping you to feel calmer and in control. Meditation can also have a positive impact on your sleep.
However, if you’re attempting to ease symptoms naturally with no luck, you are not alone.
‘Exercise, staying fit and healthy, and avoiding refined sugars can help with symptoms,’ says Dilks. ‘However, if the symptoms are severe and are affecting your quality of life, lifestyle modifications are not likely to help. Many herbal medications are available over the counter, but caution should be taken before using them, as some may contain unopposed oestrogen.’