I first heard the term “Perimenopause” years ago when I was watching the Oprah show. She had on a gynecologist who was talking about how your menstrual cycle can begin to become irregular many years before menopause. I heard this expert say that this process can begin as early as ten years before you officially experience menopause. My mouth flew open as did Oprah’s. “Say what?” This cycle chaos can go on for years and years? Well isn’t that a special treat for us women to look forward to? NOT
My gynecologist mentioned this term to me for the first time during my last visit. I told him my periods were becoming more difficult to predict when they would arrive. My usual cycle of 25-26 days was becoming more like every 35 days or more. He smiled gently and said, “You are of that age when perimenopause begins. Your periods will most likely space more and more apart until they disappear for good.” All soon as he said the “pause” word I was imagining putting my fingers in my ears and "La la la"ing the message right out of my head. No way! Moi? Thinking about menopause? The truth is that I am 44 and ten months so okay sure I suppose this is entirely feasible. But I don’t have to be happy about it!
My oldest sister is a good decade older than I am so I went to her for solace. It seems perimenopause had hit her around 47-48 years old. And she told me her periods became extremely difficult to predict. And then she told me the story of how she was on a long plane ride and was sleeping. She had not had her period in months and didn’t expect it. She had no menstrual cramps, nothing to warn her. But when she woke up from a nap on the plane she was soaked. She was 52 when her period surprised her in this dramatic way. Makes it very hard to plan for trips and vacations to say the least!
So let’s get some facts about this perimenopause.
At what age does perimenopause begin?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells us that perimenopause begins between the ages of 45-55. But some women can begin having perimenopausal symptoms as early as in their 30’s.
What are the symptoms of perimenopause?
Our Health Central Menopause expert and certified Menopause clinician, Sandy Greenquist, describes what you might expect as you enter perimenopause.
It is likely that you may have periods which may come closer together and then become farther apart in time.
You may have experience a change in your period of having a heavier or lighter flow. Some periods may have more cramps and some may have less cramping. You may experience having more blood clots with your flow.
Your sleep may be disturbed due to hot flashes and night sweats.
Your mood may be as erratic as your cycle with greater irritability, impatience, and weepiness. Sounds very similar to PMS doesn’t it?
Vaginal dryness and increased risk for urinary and vaginal infections due to a decrease in estrogen.
Can I still get pregnant during perimenopause?
The answer is yes! Although pregnancy is less likely during this process as you may not ovulate for every cycle, there is still a chance that you make become pregnant. Make sure to use birth control until you have not had a period for twelve months in a row.
If this is considered perimenopause then what exactly is menopause?
Menopause is considered to be the day when you have missed your period for twelve consecutive months. If you are still having periods, even sporadically, then you are not menopausal. The day when you have missed your period for twelve consecutive months signals a permanent end to your fertility. Menopause means your ovaries are no longer functioning resulting in the decrease of estrogen and other hormones.
If you have questions about either perimenopause or menopause please visit Health Central’s My Menopause Connection where the experts there can provide both information and support for you to cope with this process.
Now we want to hear from you! Are you currently experiencing any of the symptoms of perimenopause? What has this experience been like for you? Tell us your story. We want to hear what you have to say.
I am a mother, a writer, and now an MS patient