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The Difference Between Perimenopause and Menopause

If you have insomnia, night sweats, hot flashes, and mood changes, you may be starting to wonder if you’ve reached that menopausal stage of life. That could be, but did you know that there are different stages within menopause? Each is important to understand because it can affect your body and life in different ways.

Premenopause Vs. Perimenopause

Premenopause is the stage of life before menopausal symptoms. You still have a regular (or irregular) period and are in the midst of your reproductive years. You may experience some ups and downs in your hormones, but there aren’t any noticeable changes in your body otherwise.

Perimenopause is when a woman starts to experience symptoms she may think are caused by menopause, but they’re not. She still has a period, but may suffer from some uncomfortable symptoms. This stage typically comes roughly ten years ahead of menopause. It marks a woman’s estrogen levels beginning to drop (or fluctuate), and it can cause period irregularities. It is still possible to get pregnant during this stage.

When Does Menopause Begin?

Menopause is clinically diagnosed after a year without a period of any kind. At that point it’s easy to identify that the ovaries are no longer producing eggs that are released. It is a normal part of a woman’s life, and every woman’s experience can be different. Although it always comes with some discomfort, talk to your doctor if you’re concerned that you may need treatment to help with your symptoms.

Women typically reach menopause around the age of 51. However, it’s not uncommon to start exhibiting symptoms as early as your 40s. The symptoms experienced in your 40s are not menopause, but are actually symptoms of perimenopause (we’ll touch more on that later).

Early menopause can happen if you:

  • Smoke
  • Have a history of early menopause in your family
  • Have undergone cancer treatments
  • Have had an oophorectomy or hysterectomy

What to Expect During Perimenopause

Perimenopause can mirror menopause symptoms, but it can also include symptoms such as infertility, weight gain, and worsening PMS. You may find that your period becomes inconsistent and unpredictable, which is a common sign of perimenopause. Some women may find that they need treatment to lessen their symptoms and function better in everyday life.

Here are some of the common symptoms of perimenopause:

  • Irregular periods
  • Hot flashes and night sweats
  • Worsening or lighter PMS
  • Breast tenderness
  • Hair changes (such as curly to straight or brown to gray)
  • Mood swings, anxiety, and/or depression
  • Weight fluctuation
  • Headaches
  • Decreased libido
  • Difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness
  • Sore muscles or muscle aches
  • An increased amount of UTIs
  • Fertility struggles

How to Deal with Perimenopause and Menopause Symptoms

Because our bodies are all different while going through perimenopause and menopause, your routine or lifestyle changes may vary compared to others. You may find that some things make a difference for you, and others may not.

Here are a few suggestions that women have seen work in the past.

  1. Practice Mindfulness: Many women have found that doing yoga or taking quiet walks in nature, or merely sitting in a quiet room with their eyes closed (can be a form of meditation or not) has helped them alleviate their hormone fluctuations.
  2. Avoid Dietary Triggers: Some known triggers for symptoms include alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods. Keeping your gut health under control can help minimize your overall symptoms and aid in maintaining a healthy body.
  3. Exercise Consistently: Even if you exercise one to two days a week, you’re helping kick your body into gear and encouraging healthy bodily functions.
  4. Incorporate Vitamins in Your Daily Routine: Every woman benefits from regularly taking vitamins, but women experiencing perimenopause and menopause can especially benefit from taking Calcium, Vitamin D, Iron, and Vitamin E supplements. It also doesn’t hurt to have your doctor test your vitamin levels to see if there is anything else, in particular, that your body is lacking and you should supplement for.
  5. Rule Out Thyroid Irregularities: Some women can mistake perimenopause and menopause with irregular thyroid functions. If you’re concerned that your thyroid may cause your symptoms, request a test from your doctor to put that concern to rest.
  6. Explore the Option of Hormone Replacement Therapy: Although it may sound daunting, a surprising amount of women suffer from hormone deficiencies and can benefit from hormone replacement therapy. Talk to your doctor to see if this is a good option for you.

Should You See a Doctor?

Although you don’t need a diagnosis for perimenopause or menopause, there are a few instances where you should see your OB-GYN ensure that nothing serious is taking place, including:

  • Spotting after a period
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Blood clots during a period
  • Periods that are extending longer than usual or are much shorter than normal

This will help the doctor rule out anything severe and create a treatment plan for you if necessary, to ensure optimal health and encourage the healthy continuation of your daily life.

If you have questions or concerns about perimenopause or menopause, set up a consultation with us, and we’ll make sure you’re informed and at peace in your journey.