Are you gaining weight without increasing your food intake? Having difficulty sleeping? Are you unusually irritable, anxious, and/or depressed? Is your hair thinning? Are you experiencing heart palpitations? Have you lost interest in sex?
And now for the $64,000 question: Have your menstrual periods become somewhat irregular?
If you came to your concierge family doctors in Jupiter at MD 2.0, with these or similar complaints, we would run a series of tests to rule out other possible causes, but the chances are, we would diagnose you as being in perimenopause.
And you might argue, “But Doctor, that’s impossible! I’m only 42!”
While most women don’t enter menopause until their early 50s or even later, what most of them don’t realize is that their bodies begin the actual transition much earlier. Some even begin to notice symptoms in their mid-30s. But because of their age, they hear the “menopause” part of “perimenopause” and immediately rule that out as a possibility.
In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, there are a host of others that some women experience but others do not. These can include: hot flashes (a sudden feeling of heat, especially on the face and chest); vaginal dryness; acne or allergies; changes in breast tissue; urinary incontinence; itchy or crawly skin; memory problems; facial hair; headaches; leg cramps; panic attacks; joint pain; urinary infections; fatigue . . . in short, all the symptoms most often associated with menopause.
During the period of perimenopause, several of these symptoms may start, stop, and start again, or start, stop, and be replaced by others. What’s happening is that your body’s production of estrogen and progesterone is fluctuating, not unlike alternately hitting the gas and then the brakes if you were driving a car. Some of the symptoms are driven by excess or deficient estrogen, some by excess or deficient progesterone, and some by an imbalance between these two critical hormones. And they won’t stop this tug-of-war until well after menopause.
Menopause, by the way, is characterized by the complete cessation of menstrual periods for 12 full months. During perimenopause, periods may become irregular, but you can still become pregnant until menopause.
But the symptoms of both can be controlled through numerous methods. Depending on your test results, we can prescribe various types of hormone therapy for short periods of time, but we prefer to work with you to alleviate your symptoms through non-drug methods first. Remember that both perimenopause and menopause are natural occurrences, and many women find relief from uncomfortable symptoms solely through lifestyle adjustments.
First, while exercise may seem totally unrelated to perimenopause symptoms (and not at the top of your to-do list if you’re suffering from fatigue), it’s the first line of defense in combatting chaotic hormones. Aerobic and strength-training exercises three or more times per week can not only help calm those hormones, it can also help control weight, insomnia, depression, and anxiety.
Dietary changes can also play a role in regulating perimenopause symptoms. Sugar, alcohol, and animal fats not only contribute to the hormonal fluctuations, but make it more difficult for your body to throw off their effects. Eating lighter, fresher foods, including nuts, whole grains, and vegetables, will not only help mood swings, but ease insomnia and contribute to weight loss.
Supplements that some women have found helpful include black cohosh, evening primrose oil, ginseng, and ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil. Of course, please check with us before beginning any of these.
Finally, stress-relief techniques like meditation and deep breathing have been shown to relieve hot flashes, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed here, please see us. We can determine whether you’re in perimenopause, as well as help you chart a comfortable path through this transition.