Interview By: Kerstin Czarra
Of all the stages of menopause, perimenopause is perhaps the most murky, varied, and unpredictable. There’s often a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation around the “peri'' period as well. Below, we compile all you need to know so that you are well prepared to handle and thrive during this bumpy start to menopause.
What is perimenopause?
Translating to “around menopause,” perimenopause is the time your body makes the transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years. It is a bit of a wild, bumpy ride. That’s due to the fact your levels of estrogen are rising and falling, setting the stage for possible hot flashes, sleep issues and vaginal dryness.
When do women enter perimenopause?
Perimenopause is not like clockwork. Women enter into this stage at different ages. Some notice signs such as menstrual irregularity as early as their mid- to late-thirties. For most women, the progression starts somewhere in their 40s. Other factors can affect this, from hereditary factors to use of oral contraceptives to lifestyle factors like alcohol consumption, exercise habits and medical history.
What are the typical symptoms?
The experience for women in perimenopause is anything but typical. For some women, it feels as if they are in the throes of menopause with the entire platter of issues from hot flashes and night sweats to brain fog to massive mood swings and vaginal dryness to a sexual slump. More subtle changes can range from fluctuations in cholesterol levels, loss of bone density to decreased fertility. During this period, women can also experience weight gain (mainly around the middle), incontinence, dryer skin and hair, brittle nails, hair loss, anxiety, muscle aches, stronger PMS symptoms, breast tenderness, bloating and gas, and increased fatigue after exercise.
“The experience for women in perimenopause is anything but typical.”
So can you still get pregnant in perimenopause?
Absolutely—though your fertility gradually declines in your 30s. (A healthy, fertile 30-year old woman has a 20% chance of getting pregnant. By age 40, it is less than 5%, and by 45, that number drops to 1%. While the chances are low, you can still conceive until you have gone a full year (12 consecutive months) without a period.
When is perimenopause over?
You do not officially enter menopause until you have gone a full year (12 months) without a menstrual cycle. After this, you have entered menopause.
So, any good news?
Like with menopause, there are ways to manage and alleviate many of the symptoms. First and foremost, it’s important to optimize your overall health. Eating a healthy, plant-forward diet and ensuring you are getting proper exercise are key. Managing stress and caring for your sleep are also important. A water-based vaginal moisturizer can soothe vaginal dryness and serve as a lubrciant for less painful sex. Dry skin, hair and nails can benefit from ultra-hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and biotin. Having a cooling spray or wipes on hand can help manage the heat and perspiration of hot flashes. Likewise, discreet liners can save you from any leaks that come with a necessary sneeze or good laugh.