As women, we’ve all been there. Whether it’s as small as misplacing a grocery list or as unfortunate as your significant other forgetting to pay a bill: We know how it feels to have mood swings. One moment we’re at ease and the next we’re raging about why our soap opera was deleted from the DVR. But these occasional mood swings can take an unpredictable turn beginning in the late 30s. What may be perceived as typical behavior could actually be the work of perimenopause, which affects more than 40 million women each year. University OB-GYN Associates’ Dr. Laura David and Westlake OB-GYN Dr. Regina Hill explain the mysteries of perimenopause, what to look for and how to find relief.
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause is when a woman’s reproductive system begins to prepare for menopause, leading to fluctuations in hormones that may not be following their usual monthly cycle. “The biggest misconception is that it’s going to be a fairly predictable and smooth transition in the aging process,” David says. “Perimenopause is one long spectrum of change interrupted by chaotic swings of unpredictable hormone responses.”
How can a woman know if she’s experiencing perimenopause?
Although symptoms vary throughout perimenopause, typical signs include hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain and appetite changes. The biggest and most noticeable change that a woman will experience is the frequency of her menstrual period. “Most of the time periods will be more spaced with abnormal bleeding in between, or they might start to come more often,” Hill says.
What are some complications?
Pregnancy is possible, although many are unsuccessful due to complications with conception later in life. Other issues include painful intercourse and the possibility of developing infections due to aged vaginal tissue. “The bladder, vaginal tissue and pelvic floor all go through dramatic aging processes as estrogen is lost,” David says.
What lifestyle changes can a woman make to find relief from symptoms?
Although running and weightlifting strengthen abdominal muscles, the pelvic floor begins to weaken in response to such activities. “In order to compensate for exercises that strain the pelvic floor, Kegels should be made a part of the daily routine,” David says. “It’s like flossing your teeth. You can get away without doing it for 20 to 30 years, but at age 40, the wear and tear begins to come through.” Evidence also suggests that soy, a plant-based estrogen, can mitigate the intensity of hot flashes. “Drinking soy milk or eating things made from soy can really help manage them,” Hill says.
What other methods can be used to find relief from perimenopause symptoms?
For the busy, working woman, finding time to relax is much easier said than done, but relaxation could be the key to relief. Recognition that total body health is dependent on activities that reduce stress, anxiety and exhaustion is the first step in easing perimenopausal symptoms. “Carve out 20 to 30 minutes a day where you sit with some quiet activity, like reading a good book,” David says. “Take time for yourself to renew energy and renew your sense of emotional, spiritual and physical health.”