Are your periods all over the map, when they used to arrive like clockwork? Or are you waking up at night soaked in sweat? If so, there’s a good chance you’re going through perimenopause.
Perimenopause is the lead-in to menopause, the end of your reproductive years. When you’ve had no menstrual cycle for 12 months back-to-back, you’ve officially entered menopause.
The road to menopause can take several years and is full of hormonal shifts.
This can trigger a slew of symptoms – which can make it a confusing and frustrating time. But perimenopause doesn’t have to be scary. When you know what to expect, and how to ease symptoms, the journey is much easier.
In this article, we’ll cover the most common signs of perimenopause and the best ways to support your body throughout this process.
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is a natural transition women go through before menopause. For this reason, it’s often called the “menopause transition.”
Once menopause arrives, ovulation stops, along with your periods. Perimenopause is when your body slowly prepares to stop releasing eggs.
During this time, your ovaries gradually make less hormones, especially estrogen. As ovulation becomes more sporadic, your progesterone levels dip too.
That said, your hormones can fluctuate dramatically in perimenopause. This can cause your cycles to become erratic. But it can bring on a host of other symptoms too.
Symptoms of Perimenopause
Perimenopause looks different for everyone. Some women have intense symptoms that severely disrupt their life. Others have mild symptoms that aren’t bothersome at all.
Here are 10 of the most common signs of perimenopause you may (or may not) experience:
Erratic periods are often the first sign of perimenopause. Your flow may become heavier or lighter. Your cycles may become shorter or longer. Or you may skip some cycles altogether. This is all thanks to hormonal shifts in estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen helps regulate your body temperature. So when estrogen drops, it can throw off your body’s thermostat. Many women get hot flashes in perimenopause, also called hot flushes. These tend to start suddenly and last between one to five minutes.
Hot flashes usually begin in the face, scalp, neck, or chest and their severity can vary greatly from person to person. Some women may only feel mildly warm. Others may have hot flashes that leave them dripping in sweat.
Hot flashes that happen overnight are called night sweats, and they can severely disrupt your sleep. Which brings us to the next symptom…
Plus, if you wake up covered in sweat, it can make for unrestful nights. Especially if you have to change your clothes and sheets. That’s why practicing good sleep hygiene is a must for perimenopause. More on this later…
As your hormones go up and down, so can your mood. You may feel depressed one day, and angry the next. You may cry more often, feel anxious, or have a shorter fuse.
Since sleep and mood are deeply connected, these mood swings can hit you especially hard if you’re struggling with sleep.
One of estrogen’s many jobs is to help your vagina stay lubricated. As estrogen declines, your vaginal walls can become thinner and drier (known as vaginal atrophy).
Vaginal dryness can lead to irritation and itching. But it can also make for painful sex. Using a vaginal lubricant can help you enjoy your intimate time no matter what your hormones are doing.
Changes in libido
Estrogen and progesterone both affect sexual desire. So, when these hormones drop, your libido may too. Vaginal dryness may also make sex less appealing, and make you feel less frisky.
Noticing a little leakage when you cough, laugh, or sneeze? Estrogen helps to keep the tissues in your urinary tract flexible and healthy. As it declines, you may need to pee more often or experience urinary incontinence.
When estrogen declines, your cognitive function may get a little wonky. You may have trouble focusing, forget appointments, have a harder time recalling words, or lose your keys more often.
Luckily, research shows these cognitive issues improve after menopause. So hang in there and be patient with yourself.
Estrogen helps maintain bone density. When it drops, your bones lose that protection. This can speed up bone loss and increase your risk of osteoporosis.
To prevent bone loss, add in weight-bearing exercises like walking, dancing, and hiking. Lifting weights, eating calcium-rich foods like leafy greens, and getting enough vitamin D can also help keep your bones strong.
As estrogen falls, it can change your blood cholesterol levels. Your ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol may increase, while your ‘good’ HDL cholesterol may drop – both of which increase the risk of heart disease.
That’s why it’s a good idea to check your cholesterol regularly if you’re in perimenopause. To keep your cholesterol in a healthy range, eat a heart-healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
What is the Typical Age for Perimenopause?
Perimenopause often starts in a woman’s 40s, with ages 40 to 44 being the most common. Yet some women enter perimenopause as early as their mid-30s.
Perimenopause lasts around four years on average. But for some women, it may only last a few months. For others, perimenopause may go on for close to a decade.
What are the Signs Perimenopause is Ending?
As menopause gets closer, the intervals between your periods increase. If you’ve gone 60 days or more without a period, it’s a sign you’re in the later stages of perimenopause.
What Can I Do to Ease Perimenopause Symptoms?
With so many changes going on, perimenopause can make it feel like a lot is out of your control. But there is so much you can do to support your body through this process.
Often simple dietary and lifestyle shifts can make a huge difference and help you navigate this transition with more ease.
The following are some tips that may help ease perimenopause symptoms and support your body on this journey.
Eat a nutritious diet.
Eat a diet rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein. Include plenty of leafy greens and omega-3-rich foods like salmon, sardines, freshly ground flax, chia seeds, and hemp seeds.
Avoid trigger foods.
Alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods can aggravate perimenopause symptoms. If these foods trigger your symptoms, it’s best to limit or avoid them.
Women who smoke are more likely to go through perimenopause early. They also tend to have more intense symptoms, like hot flashes.
Dress in layers.
This allows you to shed clothing easily if and when a hot flash strikes. Having a portable fan on hand may also help.
Practice good sleep hygiene.
To support your body’s circadian rhythm, stick to a regular sleep schedule. Try to limit electronics for 1-2 hours before bed. These devices emit blue light, which can disrupt your sleep. Instead, devote that time to a relaxing bedtime ritual. Take a bath, read a book, meditate, listen to some music, or cuddle with your partner or pet.
Keep a lid on stress.
Stress makes everything worse, including perimenopause symptoms. Try to set aside at least 10-15 minutes each day for relaxation to prevent stress from getting out of hand. Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and spending time in nature are all proven ways to de-stress.
Physical activity supports strong bones, reduces stress, and helps you maintain a healthy weight. Aim to move your body for 30 minutes most days.
Lose weight, if needed.
Women who are obese are much more likely to have severe perimenopause symptoms. Research shows even small amounts of weight loss can reduce symptoms like night sweats and hot flashes.
If you’re struggling with your weight and could use some help, check out our Shape Reclaimed program. It has helped thousands of people lose weight, regain their energy, and feel better than they have in years.
What Holistic Treatments Soothe Perimenopause Symptoms?
The tips we’ve covered above can go a long way to smoothing your perimenopause journey. But if you’d like some extra support and live in the Chicago area, Anchored in Health offers several holistic modalities that may help.
Functional medicine can be game-changing for perimenopause. This whole-body approach balances hormones with targeted dietary and lifestyle changes, along with nutritional support when needed.
Hormones are a delicate business. Taking nutritional supplements without understanding your unique imbalances can often make matters worse. Our functional medicine doctor can guide you to the best nutritional supplements for your body, in the right amounts.
Acupuncture can also help smooth out perimenopause symptoms. Acupuncture treatments are proven to improve sleep, ease anxiety, and reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes in as little as five weeks.
Start Working with A Holistic Doctor in Orland Park, IL
Ready to get control of your perimenopause symptoms? Book your first appointment for acupuncture, functional medicine, or Shape Reclaimed appointment at our Orland Park, IL office here.
Other Holistic Services Offered at Anchored in Health in Orland Park, IL
If you live near Chicago and are tired of struggling with your health, we’re here to help. Contact us to find out how we can help you restore your health and vitality. And feel free to visit our blog for more helpful health insights!