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Menopause and perimenopause are stages women go through as they transition into and out of their reproductive years. While many people think of them as the same thing, there are actually some important differences between the two. In this article, we’ll answer the questions,- What’s the difference between perimenopause and menopause, when does perimenopause stop and are perimenopause and menopause symptoms the same?
There are a lot of misconceptions about perimenopause and menopause with many believing that the first hot flush is when menopause begins. In reality, there is a long time between the start of perimenopause symptoms and your final egg being produced at the end of perimenopause.
The reason for the confusion is understandable considering that the subject is often talked about in hushed tones behind closed doors or not at all. Until we have open conversations around menopause there will always be women who, sadly, have no true idea of what they are going through.
When I started experiencing perimenopausal symptoms in the form of mood swings of monumental proportion at age 42 I had no idea what was happening. I thought I was a little bit psycho and a lot bitter about everything in my life at the time.
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My first clue came when the hot flushes started. I was almost relieved to be able to put a name to what I was experiencing.
the time leading up to menopause. Hormonal changes can start as much as 8-10 years before menopause itself.
From the age of around 35 – 40 you will begin to ovulate less regularly and possibly experience irregular periods until they eventually stop.
Until your periods stop any symptoms you have are considered perimenopausal.
There are other things not related to perimenopause that can affect your menstrual cycle so if you are experiencing changes it would be worth visiting your GP especially if you’re having heavy bleeding.
Estrogen levels are dropping which is one of the reasons for any perimenopause symptoms.
Thanks to hormonal fluctuations during this very changeable time you have more pronounced:mood swings, irregular periods with some lighter and some heavier than you are used to.
You may also experience:
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- brain fog
- difficulty sleeping
- lack of energy
- vaginal dryness
- weight gain
It’s worth noting that the same symptoms can be experienced once you enter menopause.
Perimenopause can last as long as 10 years but the average is 4 to 6 years. For a few women, these fluctuations can lead to quite disruptive symptoms such as migraines, severe night sweats and more.
The mood swings that occur can lead to anxiety and/or depression. If you are also suffering from lack of sleep these symptoms can be exacerbated. It is important in these instances to consult with a doctor who can monitor you.
Stop forgetting appointments and your first born’s name!
Make lifestyle changes to manage both perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms naturally
Perimenopause symptoms can sometimes be managed by lifestyle changes such as:
- improved diet with more vegetables
- regular exercise
- a good sleep routine
- keeping stress to a minimum through mindfulness activities
This also may be a good time to have a chat with your doctor about supplements, or Hormone Replacement Therapy options. It is important to have all the information from which to make informed decisions.
Some natural supplements to consider are:
- Black cohosh
- Vitamin D3
- Vitamin E
- Evening primrose oil
It is important to understand that it is still possible to fall pregnant during perimenopause. Although less often, we still ovulate so if you are sexually active it is important to use contraception.
If you are experiencing heavy bleeding it may be prudent to mention this to your doctor who will refer you to a gynaecologist. Heavy bleeding is not something that you should just put up with. And the cause may not be perimenopause so it is important to have it checked out.
Generally the symptoms will become more severe the further into perimenopause and the closer you get to your periods stopping permanently.
Once your periods stop you enter menopause. Women on average reach menopause at age 51 years.
Menopause occurs when…
you haven’t had a period for 12 months.
a bittersweet time because while you feel like high fiving fellow ‘menopausians’ for not having to have periods, there is the realisation that you are at Menopause age.
The ovaries have now stopped making estrogen and other sex hormones. Women can feel a sense of grief for what they feel they have lost. Me, I jumped for joy and hung around for the wisdom, sage and laid back confidence of post menopausal age to kick in. I’m still waiting…
The average age of menopause is 51. As your periods can be very intermittent during this time you can only be sure you have reached menopause when you have not had a period for one year. You are then post-menopause.
There are a few reasons why you might start menopause earlier than normal. They are:
- if you have a family history of early menopause
- if your undergoing treatment for cancer.
- hysterectomy where you uterus and ovaries have been removed.
We should be talking about this
Yes! Ask your mother, sister, aunts what they went through and how they dealt with perimenopause and menopause. Talk to friends or join the conversation in safe Facebook groups. We can all learn from each other and in the process pass the knowledge on to younger women.
Every woman experiences their own unique passage into menopause and beyond. It is only through sharing that we can educate and inform so that the women that come after us know what to expect and what not to expect. It may also help to lessen the stigma around menopause and help women from feeling less alone and isolated.
For a more in-depth look at the symptoms of each stage of perimenopause, menopause and post menopause check out this post.