The Real Deal On Peri-Menopause

Um, What Is Perimenopause?

No, you’re not going crazy. The Tasmanian-devil rage, sleep-depriving night sweats, unpredictable periods, and whatchamacallit forgetfulness—it’s real, it’s normal, and it’s called perimenopause, a physiological stage when your body. begins its transition into menopause. During this time, estrogen levels fluctuate, causing irregular menstrual cycles, as well as a flurry of other more surprising symptoms. Here, the truth about what to expect—and simple steps you can take to feel like your self again.

It’s pretty much unpredictable

You and your BFF likely won’t experience it the exact same way, from when symptoms start to their frequency or severity. Most women enter perimenopause between ages 45 and 55, but for some it starts as early as the 30s. Experts can’t predict how bad your symptoms will be or when they’ll end—perimenopause can last anywhere from a lucky 2 to an exhausting 10 years. You’re officially in menopause when you’ve gone 12 months without a period. One sign menopause is close: You miss your period for more than 3 months—that indicates you’ll likely stop menstruation altogether within a year. Symptoms, such as hot flashes and insomnia, also get more intense a year or two before and after menopause due to the rapid decline of estrogen. With time, most women adapt to lower levels of the hormone, and symptoms ease up.

Feel-better fix: There’s no way to postpone menopause, but studies suggest certain factors, such as smoking, may bring it on earlier. Also, ask your mom when she started going through “the change.” There’s a genetic link, so yours will likely begin around the same time.

It’s like PMS—on steroids

You accidentally burned the pizza in the oven: The pre-perimenopausal you may have muttered a curse and tossed it in the trash. You-in-the-throes-of-perimenopause, however, assault the oven door, burst into tears, and blame your husband, kids, and cocker spaniel for distracting you. One minute later, you’re totally fine. Okay, maybe you don’t actually attack your stove, but the rest pretty accurately exemplifies the toll raging hormones take on your emotional state. Research shows that nearly 40% of women experience mood swings associated with hormonal dips—from sudden anger to intense moodiness, anxiety, or despair.

Feel-better fix: It’s hard to avoid mood swings entirely, but there are ways to alleviate them. Studies suggest too little vitamin B12 may be linked to mood swings and depression, so up your intake of B12-rich foods, including shellfish (clams, mussels, and crab), salmon, lean beef, low-fat or fat-free milk, and eggs. (A daily multivitamin also provides the recommended amount.) Some OTC products, such as Pamprin, may help ease irritability, as can yoga and–it goes without saying–getting enough sleep. For severe mood swings, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy—the medication may ease emotions by boosting neurotransmitters that help regulate moods.

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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.