Perimenopause: When Good Hormones Go Bad

The Wall Street Journal

By Rachel Emma Silverman
October 12, 2010

Insomnia, anxiety, memory loss, mood swings. These symptoms – along with migraines, joint and muscle pain, diminished sex drive, dry skin, thinning hair, weight gain and digestive problems—are just some of the discomforts that many women in their late 30s and 40s experience in the years leading up to menopause, a period termed “perimenopause.”

These symptoms can be caused by fluctuating levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone and can start  as many as 10 years before menopause, when a woman’s monthly periods first become erratic, reports Melinda Beck in today’s Health Journal.  Many women say the emotional, cognitive and physiological symptoms they experience during perimenopause are often far more severe than those of actual menopause, such as hot flashes.

As you can imagine, waking up frequently in the middle of the night with free-floating anxiety can make you edgy, irritable and exhausted – and can wreak havoc on the personal and professional lives of some women. After all, it’s hard to put on you’re A-game at work or as a parent if you’re feeling like a mess, physically and emotionally.  (To be sure, not every woman experiences these symptoms, and not all doctors think to attribute insomnia, mood changes and memory problems to hormonal shifts, Beck writes.)

Still, as someone who experienced bad insomnia when my body went through major hormonal shifts (both immediately postpartum and when weaning my first son), I can say firsthand that it’s terrifying and uncomfortable when your normally well-functioning body and mind go a bit out of whack. I’m not looking forward to the hormonal ride of perimenopause, but it helps now that I understand a lot more what lies ahead.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.