Menopause is a normal part of a woman’s life. However, unless your menopause results from an event such as hysterectomy or cancer treatments, it’s a gradual process that occurs over a period of months or even years. In fact, the definition of the start of menopause is the absence of menstrual periods for 12 months.
Prior to that 12th month, you’re in a transitional stage called perimenopause. Many women start to notice changes to their periods in their 40s, but for some it could be even a decade earlier. There’s no “normal” to this transition, and that’s true of both timing and symptoms.
Serrano OBGyn, located in Manhattan, is an experienced, board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, and he can help you through this challenging time.
In the United States, 51 is the median age for women entering menopause, though it could happen as early as your 30s or as late as your 60s. There’s no relationship between the time you start having periods and the time you reach menopause, nor is there a way to predict when menopause will begin.
Your awareness of your own body is perhaps your best indicator, particularly when you recognize common signs associated with perimenopause. Just as with menopause, there’s no set time for perimenopause to start and no predictable duration. Symptoms experienced during perimenopause may or may not resemble those you develop during menopause.
Perimenopause begins because of the changing balance of hormones in your body — most particularly your ovaries decrease their production of estrogen. Since this is the hormone that defines much of your reproductive identity, it’s natural to expect that less estrogen means declining activity in your reproductive organs.
The most common and obvious sign of perimenopause is changing menstrual periods. You may find that your cycle becomes irregular in timing, and you may also experience differences in menstrual bleeding. This could include lighter or heavier bleeding, with shorter or longer durations than in the past.
Sleep disorders aggravated by night sweats and hot flashes are common, though you can have sleep disruptions without any internal thermostat issues. It’s common for hot flashes to vary widely during perimenopause, in length, intensity, and frequency.
Mood problems often accompany sleep issues, but it’s also common to have unexplained irritability or rapid mood swings as a result of hormonal changes. You can also become more prone to depression than you were previously.
Changes to your genitourinary system can arise as well. Your vagina’s physical condition may change, including reduced lubrication during sexual arousal. Tissue tone may also decline, causing urinary incontinence or uncomfortable intercourse.
Estrogen is important for bone health, and you may start to lose bone mass during perimenopause, leading toward osteoporosis. Similarly, LDL cholesterol levels rise, increasing your risk of heart disease later in life.
The symptoms of perimenopause and menopause have treatments, so you don’t have to suffer needlessly. Call our office today at 210-761-5309 to arrange your personal consultation with Dr. Serrano, or contact us online to find out more.