Many women start noticing subtle changes in their bodies years before menopause actually happens. They may wonder if menopause it beginning. Perimenopause it the phase leading up to menopause and is when your estrogen level begins to decrease. This phase can last up to 10 years; women may experience symptoms such as a change in sleep patterns, without ever realizing this is one sign that menopause is on it's way. Perimenopause is considered to be over 12 months after your last period when you are considered menopausal.
Most women experience a variety of menopausal symptoms during perimenopause - with symptoms increasing the closer you get to becoming menopausal. . The following are some of what you may experience:
Menstrual Cycle - Your periods may get shorter or longer. They may be shorter one month, longer the next. You may go longer in between periods. For women who have had irregular periods throughout their lives, this may go unnoticed, for those who have always had regular periods, you may notice this change right away.
Hot Flashes - In the early stage of perimenopause you may have an infrequent hot flash but this often increases as you get closer to menopause. Hot flashes are usually concentrated on your face and chest. In the beginning, you may think you are just overly warm because of the room you are in. About three-fourths of women experience hot flashes during perimenopause.
Sleep Patterns Change - Having trouble falling asleep, waking up during the night or waking early in the morning can all be signs of menopause. This may be caused from hot flashes, stress or could be unexplained.
Lower Sex Drive - Many women experience a decrease in interest in sex. You might attribute this to stress or relationship problems but when these factors are addressed and you still don't feel the same desire as you did previously it could be a sign of menopause.
Vaginal Dryness - As your hormone levels change, vaginal lubrication changes and during perimenopause you may notice that you are experiencing dryness. This is often noticed when intercourse becomes uncomfortable or painful.
Urinary Tract Infections - Some women experience frequent urinary tract infections during perimenopause.
Night sweats - You may wake up at night with your nightclothes soaked with sweat, even though your room isn't excessively hot. Night sweats are caused by hot flashes you have during your sleep.
Mood swings - Similar to PMS, you may become irritable for no apparent reason and have a hard time managing your moods. You may feel down or depressed. This is normally caused by changing hormones but if you don't feel better, talk with your doctor to make sure you don't have depression.
Memory Problems - Sometimes referred to as "brain fog," memory problems can include problems with word recall, and other working memory tasks.
If you are wondering if you are nearing menopause, talk with your mother or older sisters. The average age for menopause is 51, however, it can occur anywhere from the age of 40 to 59. Usually, it occurs around the same time in families so if you can get an idea of when your mother or older sisters went through menopause it should give you an idea of when to expect it to happen to you.
For more information:
Health Central's Menopause Community
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
What You Put on Your Plate May Have Effect on Hot Flashes
"35 Symptoms of Menopause," 2012, Various contributors, Project AWARE
"'Brain Fog' of Menopause Confirmed," 2012, Mar 14, Miriam Weber, University of Rochester
"Menopause," 2013, Dr. Cullins, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
"Perimenopause: Hormone Ups and Downs Can Last Years," 2007, Jan 10, Amy Burkholder, CNN.com