Just when you feel you have hit the hormone sweet spot, where the angst of puberty is but a distant memory, childbearing is behind you and menopause is a date far in the future, it turns out life may have other plans.
For around 20 per cent of women “those plans” could involve severe mood swings, anxiety, sleeplessness, migraines and loss of libido.
If this sounds like you it could be perimenopause, which usually affects women in their 40s but can commence in your 30s and may last up to 10 years.
According to the Jean Hailes Foundation, perimenopause is the sign your ovaries are beginning to wind down.
“This means that some months you will ovulate, sometimes twice in a cycle, while in other months, no egg will be released,” they explain.
It’s a stage that can be marked by hormone fluctuations, where premenstrual tension might be more pronounced, weight gain might occur, and mood changes including anxiety might become a fixture.
But for most women, the first giveaway is irregular periods.
“Periods may become more irregular, spaced further apart, lighter, heavier or have a different pattern every month or every few months,” says Dr Elizabeth Farrell, gynaecologist and Medical Director of the Jean Hailes Medical Centres.
Further symptoms might include:
• Hot flushes
• Problems with falling asleep, staying asleep and sleep quality
• Breast tenderness
• Itchy/crawly/dry skin
• Trouble concentrating
• Vaginal dryness
• Loss of libido (sex drive)
Sounds like a real picnic, but few women experience all these symptoms, some experience just a couple, and they may come and go, receding for months at a time before making their presence felt again.
Four to six years is the average time women experience perimenopause. But it may last as little as a year or as long as a decade and for many, perimenopause is just another post of call on the voyage that is womanhood.
The next destination? Menopause.
The Jean Hailes Foundation stresses a few important factors when it comes to handling perimenopause. Firstly, women shouldn’t assume all changes are associated with this phase.
“If bleeding becomes very heavy, there is spotting between periods, pain or extremely erratic periods, women should see their doctor to rule out underlying causes, such as fibroid growths, changes to the lining of the uterus or [in rarer cases], cancer,” Dr Farrell states.
Meanwhile, as women can ovulate twice a month during perimenopause, (once mid-month and once during their period) contraception is a must.
They also urge women who are experiencing symptoms of perimenopause which affect their daily life to check in with their doctor, especially if they’re feeling anxious and depressed.
The Jean Hailes Foundation explains treatments that may be able to assist include:
· The contraceptive pill
· Hormone replacement therapy
· An IUD
· Complementary therapies
· Healthy daily habits like exercise and a good diet
GIF via Kim Murton
More information about perimenopause is available at jeanhailes.org.au
Cassandra Charlesworth is a features writer with 20 years’ journalism experience. She loves a good old-fashioned story and getting to the heart of a great yarn. She’s also a mum to three children who have encouraged her to hone some secret skills. Nimbly navigating Lego pieces left on her loungeroom floor and creating stylish Barbie attire from all manner of household objects are just a couple of credentials she’s recently added to her resume.