The transition from menstruation to menopause is different for everyone, so it can be a challenge to deduce whether you’re in the middle of it. Most will experience it somewhere between the ages of 40 and 58, with the average age being 51, but some see symptoms in their 30s. The physical changes begin years before your final period and the transition is called perimenopause. This transition phase may be anywhere from four to eight years but for some, it can be longer. You’ll notice changes in the length of time between periods—not the general 1–2-day variation—this will be a more noticeable change. A year after your last period, you will have officially reached menopause.
The Three Phases of Menopause
Before you can begin to understand if you’re in perimenopause, it’s important to understand the three distinct phases. We have an in-depth article here, but below is a quick snapshot.
- Perimenopause is the period of time that leads up to menopause. Hormone levels of estrogen start to decline which causes menstrual cycles to become less predictable. Aside from that, other side effects that you may experience are hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood swings.
- Menopause happens when you’ve stopped ovulating completely and haven’t had a period for 12 months in a row. After this life event occurs, you enter post-menopause.
- Post-Menopause comes directly after menopause, and you’ll stay in this phase for the rest of your life. Those in post-menopause have an increased risk of health conditions like osteoporosis and heart disease.
The most important thing to note here is that what is typically referred to as menopause, is actually perimenopause, as menopause itself is just one day. Think of menopause as a landmark and perimenopause and post-menopause as the road you take to get to and past that landmark.
Common Symptoms You’ll Experience
- Hot flashes. This is possibly the most talked about symptom associated with menopause. It involves a sudden wave of heat or warmth and is often accompanied by sweating, reddening of the skin, and rapid heartbeat. They often last between one and five minutes and are typically followed by a cold chill.
- Night sweats. These are hot flashes that occur at night and can interfere with a good night’s sleep. While the myth of menopause itself causing irritability has been debunked, sleep disturbances that stem from hot flashes and night sweats can certainly make anyone feel irritable.
- Emotional changes. Although menopause itself doesn’t cause depression, studies show that 20% of menstruators have symptoms of depression during this time. If depression is something you’ve experienced at other times in your life, the likelihood that you’ll experience it again during this time is higher.
- Other emotional changes to look out for: Lack of motivation, anxiety, aggressiveness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, mood changes, tension, and feelings of sadness.
- One quick note about hormone testing as a determiner. Since hormones fluctuate throughout our cycles and our lives, most one-time tests are considered inconclusive, as it’s not enough information to draw a diagnosis from. You’d need a very comprehensive test that accounts for many days/months to get a decent picture of your levels. These do exist, but they are a bit pricey, often not covered by insurance, and require extreme discipline from the tester.
Misconceptions to Disassociate Yourself From
Unfortunately for some cultures, the transition to menopause is often seen as a loss of sexual vitality. Since estrogen levels are decreasing and you are ovulating less, and then not at all, some may see your “human duty” as over. But we want to make something very clear, the inability to conceive or the lack of desire to conceive does not make you any less wonderful than those that do desire and are able to conceive. We are so much more than our biology and menstruators are capable of so many other amazing things.
Another common misconception is that the symptoms listed above are a guaranteed nuisance for all who go through perimenopause. What’s really interesting is numerous studies have revealed that environments that associate negativity with menopause are linked to stronger physical and mental symptoms. Ever heard of mind over matter? Well, science has backed that theory up, particularly in this instance. We also want to validate anyone that does still experience any negative symptoms even if they went or go into this transition with a positive mindset—we see you, hear you, and believe you.
If you’re a holistic or lifestyle change kind of person, we’ve got some great options for you to try.
- Water-based lubricant can help make sex more pleasurable in the absence of body-made lubricant. Water-based is great because it’s less likely to irritate and it won’t interfere with condom efficacy.
- Regular exercise, meditation, and other relaxing activities can help with depression and other side effects of post-menopause. Exercise is a great symptom management staple to keep in general, as it’s been linked to positive effects for many ailments. It’s often the first thing we let go of in times of stress, so try and carve out some non-negotiable time for yourself with whatever activity that gets your heart pumping and brings you joy.
- Eat a diet rich in phytoestrogens (plant-based sources of estrogen) such as whole-grain cereals, flaxseed, chickpeas, and legumes. Reducing caffeine and alcohol intake has also been shown to help.
- Take Menopause Essentials. Our supplement is formulated with red clover from Spain and bergamot and olive extract from Italy to support you during hot flashes, night sweats, and mood changes as estrogen production decreases.
- Take The Daily Hormone Balance. Our hormone supplement can help combat issues with increased insulin which will in turn help with the increased risk of heart disease and diabetes as we reach menopause.
- Grab The 40+ Essentials Bundle. If you want to give your system the best support you can, while staying on budget, consider grabbing both products above in our bundle. We’re looking out for your body and your wallet.
- Your healthcare provider may suggest some alternative or additional options to manage your symptoms.
- Antidepressants for mood swings or depression
- Vaginal creams for pain related to sexual intercourse and vaginal dryness
- Gabapentin (Neurontin®) to relieve hot flashes.
When it comes down to it, you are the best person to assess if you’re in perimenopause. You can be proactive about it by tracking your cycle and symptoms in an app or going old school and using a physical journal. It’s never a bad idea to chat with your doctor, but it’s more likely they’ll diagnose based on the symptoms you’ve tracked rather than a hormone test. Instead of dreading this transition, let’s enter it as a celebration of one chapter of life closing and a new one beginning.