After years of adjusting to your monthly period, it’s time for another change. Entering perimenopause means adapting to bodily changes and feelings. Here are some general facts and answers to common questions to help you enter this new stage in your life.
Perimenopause — What’s that?
When a woman’s hormone production starts changing, she enters perimenopause. Her ovaries are still producing hormones, but they are producing lower levels as she moves through perimenopause towards menopause. When she stops producing hormones, she has reached menopause.
Symptoms of perimenopause are often confused with signs of menopause. Hot flashes, mood swings and weight gain are commonly associated with menopause. Those symptoms are actually signs that your hormone production is decreasing but has not stopped completely.
Does hormone replacement help?
Hormone therapy/replacement is a common treatment for perimenopausal symptoms. This treatment focuses on replacing the natural estrogen that is no longer being produced at the same rate in your body. There are two main types of estrogen therapy: Systemic hormone therapy and low-dose vaginal products. Systemic hormone therapy includes supplements that contain higher doses of estrogen that is absorbed throughout the body. Low-dose vaginal products are commonly used to treat vaginal and urinary symptoms of menopause and do not contain a high level of estrogen. (They aren’t’ necessarily low-dose, but are just local rather than systemic absorption)
The North American Menopause Society, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and the Endocrine Society take the position, “most healthy, recently menopausal women can use hormone therapy for relief of their symptoms … if they so choose.” Symptoms that can be improved by hormone replacement treatment are vaginal dryness and discomfort, hot flashes and bone-thinning. Hormone replacement treatment carries some risks depending on your age, health history and type of hormone therapy. Discuss this option with your healthcare provider to determine if this treatment is the right option for you.
Can my lifestyle impact my perimenopausal experience?
Perimenopausal symptoms like hot flashes, insomnia, irritability and more cannot be erased. However, certain lifestyle choices can lessen those symptoms [link to Mighty Perimenopause Foods when published]. Incorporating certain foods into your diet can help with symptoms such as weight gain. While you should intentionally incorporate certain foods into your diet, it’s also important to avoid certain foods. Processed carbs, added sugars and more can worsen your perimenopause symptoms.
When will I reach menopause?
You will have officially reached menopause after going 12 months without your period. How long does it take for that to happen? There is no clear answer. Every woman is different and experiences perimenopause differently. Talking with your healthcare provider can help you navigate the time you are in perimenopause. It can last anywhere between months and years.
Perimenopause holds new experiences and changes that can seem daunting. Entering a new stage of life means changing what you’re used to, but that can hold opportunity. Perimenopause is different for every woman, and there are plenty of options to help you adjust to your experience. Talk with your healthcare provider for support as you make this transition.
Do you have more questions? Do you need more answers? Krista Bernhoft Margolis, our Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and Functional Medicine/Holistic Health Practitioner, will guide you in understanding what is changing in your body during perimenopause, offer support and respect and suggest ways to help you through this very natural process. Check out her upcoming classes!