Just when you think you’ve mastered the art of periods, perimenopause comes knocking at the door, ready to shake things up. If your moods have shifted and you’ve been feeling hot under the collar or sweatier than usual, you might be searching for signs that perimenopause is ending.
Today, we dive into the wonderful world of this important stage of life, exploring why it happens and what you can expect, so you can navigate the transition with confidence.
A peek at perimenopause: what it is
Perimenopause is a phase in a person’s menstrual journey marked by hormonal changes leading up to menopause, which is when their period stops. Dr Bernie McElhinney, a leading Perth gynaecologist, says this phase typically begins 5 to 10 years before your last menstrual period.
Bernie explains that, in perimenopause, “the ovaries are, to put it simply, running out of eggs.” In a normal menstrual cycle, an egg will ovulate in preparation for pregnancy, and you’ll get a period 2 weeks later (if conception hasn’t occurred).
“As you approach your last regular menstrual period, the ovaries are starting to run out of eggs, and your brain is trying harder and harder to make those ovaries work and produce an egg each month,” says Bernie.
When this happens, you might notice that your periods come closer together and can get quite heavy. As time goes by, your cycles will start to space out until suddenly there’s a year gap between periods. That’s when you can officially say that you’re menopausal.
The onset of irregular periods is often the first indication that you may be starting perimenopause.
Those horrible perimenopause symptoms: why they matter
When perimenopause comes knocking, it can send your hormone levels into a flurry. The rise and fall of these hormones, particularly estrogen, can unleash a variety of (occasionally unwelcome) physical and emotional symptoms that can last, on average, from a few months to 4 years.
Symptoms can show up in many ways, including:
- Hot flushes
- Changes to your menstrual flow
- Vaginal dryness
- Lower libido or discomfort during sex
- Sleep disturbances and fatigue
- Sore breasts
- Sore muscles and joints
- Itchy or dry skin
You might also notice emotional changes, including irritability, mood swings or depression. If you’re worried about ongoing changes in your mental wellbeing, book a chat with your GP or a healthcare professional.
The bright side (for some) is that not all people who menstruate encounter symptoms. Research by Jean Hailes reveals that 20% of people experience no symptoms whatsoever and 60% have mild to moderate symptoms, leaving 20% who face a bumpier (and potentially sweatier) journey.
For some people, hot flushes and irritability can linger into the menopausal years. So, how do you know when it’s over? Bernie says, “The absolute end is your final period, but that’s a retrospective diagnosis. You can only really say that your perimenopause is over once you know you’ve had your last period.”
Managing perimenopause fatigue and other symptoms: a how-to
The best way to navigate perimenopausal fatigue – and everything that comes with this phase – is by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Bernie stresses the importance of eating a healthy diet packed with fruit, veggies and fibre while reducing stress and trying to get more sleep.
Unsurprisingly, exercise is helpful too. “There’s lots of evidence to show that people feel better when they exercise. It releases substances into your bloodstream that help with your mood,” she says. Aside from boosting your mood, regular exercise can also mitigate the impact of hormonal changes.
What about HRT? Now called menopausal hormone treatment, HRT can bring swift relief to some people. Bernie says that “if your symptoms are really troublesome, seek help from your gynaecologist because even when you’re in that transitioning period, you can explore hormone replacement therapy of some form.”
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Ready to embrace the change?
It can be hard to look forward to (or beyond) perimenopause because – real talk – the symptoms can be challenging. It pays to remember that your body is transitioning to the next phase. Think of it like a new dawn where periods are a thing of the past, brain fog begins to clear and you can stress less about PMS and enjoy sex without falling pregnant.
Whatever your perimenopause journey may bring, set self-care high on the agenda and remember that support is only a phone call away.
For more info on all things menstrual cycle (from beginning to end), check out our blog.
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