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    What are Menopause and Perimenopause?

      |  Aug 08, 2023

    What are menopause and perimenopause?

    If you currently experience a menstrual period, it might seem hard to believe that one day it will just stop. And that’s because it doesn’t really — the process leading up to menopause, called perimenopause, is an experience in and of itself.

    A person with a menstrual cycle is considered to have reached menopause after not getting a period in 12 months. The changes in hormone levels that happen during the years leading up to menopause is a period called perimenopause—the suffix peri is Greek for “around” or “near”. This time period can last from 3 - 4 years, although some people experience it for as long as 10. 

    The first symptom of perimenopause are irregular or changing periods. Some people might see their menstrual period get lighter and shorter, while others might see their period get heavier and more infrequent. It’s common during perimenopause to stop your period for a few months and then suddenly get it again. These disruptions in your menstrual cycle, along with the perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms we explore below, are due to changes in your body’s hormones, particularly estrogen. 

    Here’s what else you can expect from perimenopause and menopause, and how to make the experience more comfortable for you.

    Common side effects of perimenopause and menopause

    Depression and anxiety

    10 - 20% of women experience mental health issues during perimenopause. These symptoms can feel like an extended period of PMS, as your body loses estrogen and makes you more vulnerable to mood swings. Symptoms of anxiety include feeling on edge mentally, but can also be physical, like heart palpitations. Depression symptoms include low mood, lack of motivation, and sleeping or eating less. However, experts are divided on whether this is caused solely by hormonal changes, or if other lifestyle factors (like stress or a lack of healthy diet) play a role. 

    Brain fog

    Brain fog, which can appear as the inability to remember words, fuzzy thoughts, and other cognitive issues, is another symptom of perimenopause. This could be caused by lower levels of estrogen and progesterone, but other symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, like hot flashes and night sweats, can also impact the quality of your sleep and therefore your cognitive abilities. 

    Genital and urinary issues

    Estrogen helps maintain the elasticity, blood flow, and moisture of the vaginal tissue. As you enter perimenopause and estrogen levels decrease, you might experience vaginal dryness or uncomfortable itching and burning during urination. Vaginal dryness can also cause pain during sex, which might lower your overall sex drive. 

    Skin and hair changes

    Women lose about 1/3rd of their estrogen during menopause, impacting the overall health and appearance of their hair and skin. Some women might experience hair loss on the scalp while gaining facial hair, and many women will experience thinner or drier skin. To support healthy skin and hair, you can take an over the counter supplement like biotin or collagen.

    Weight gain

    You might notice you’re gaining weight during menopause, even if you haven’t changed your diet or exercise routine. Menopause slows your metabolism, so you might need to make changes to your meals and movement if you’d like to maintain your current weight.

    Hot flashes

    Hot flashes are a common side of menopause, impacting up to 50% of menopausal women. A hot flash feels like a sudden wave of warmth, often beginning in the scalp, face, neck, or chest, and lasting for up to 10 minutes. In some cases, they can also cause tactile hallucinations, like your skin is crawling, or cause heart palpitations. Hot flashes occur most often at night (and might disrupt your sleep) but they can also happen during the day. 

    How to treat symptoms of perimenopause and menopause

    Let’s face it: no matter how exciting it is to think about never buying a tampon again, the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause are not fun. In fact, you might already be experiencing a few of them. Luckily many of these symptoms won’t last forever, and even the ones that are more permanent can be treated with everything from over the counter supplements to estrogen therapy. 

    If you’re looking to relieve symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, consider hormone replacement therapy. Our Aging Wellness Assessment provides you with a comprehensive look at your hormone health and other essential biomarkers that impact the aging process. Together, you’ll work with a certified clinician to determine if hormone replacement therapy is right for you, and if so, what unique combination of hormones you can take to alleviate your symptoms. Book a free consultation on our website.