Farge: Here’s what you need to know about perimenopause

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Perimenopause means “around menopause” and refers to the time during which a woman’s body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.

How is perimenopause different than menopause?

The average American woman enters menopause at age 51, but the hormone level shifts that trigger menopause can actually begin years earlier.

Perimenopause usually starts in your 40s, but for some women it can begin as early as your mid-30s and can last anywhere from a few months to 10 years.

Perimenopause vs. Menopause

The level of estrogen in your body rises and falls unevenly during perimenopause.

Your menstrual cycles may become irregular, lengthen or shorten and/or become heavier or lighter and you may experience menopause-like symptoms.

The main factor distinguishing perimenopause from menopause is menstruation. Women in perimenopause are still producing estrogen and having periods.

Once you’ve gone through 12 consecutive months without having a period, you’ve officially reached menopause.

Can I get pregnant if I am perimenopausal?

Yes. Despite a decline in fertility during the perimenopause stage, you can still become pregnant.

What are the signs of perimenopause and how do I know if I’m in it?

In perimenopause, you can suffer from a whole slew of symptoms that can be life-interrupting, including the following: Depression and anxiety; Moodiness, irritability and rage; Hot flashes and night sweats; Insomnia and fatigue; Vaginal dryness; discomfort during sex; Lower libido and Cognitive problems.

You may be experiencing one or several of the symptoms long before you realize you are perimenopausal.

Fluctuating hormone levels do not make you any less healthy and there is a lot you can do — from diet and lifestyle changes to medications — to help control your symptoms.

What can I do to help reduce my symptoms of perimenopause?

Your healthcare provider may suggest hormone therapy like low-dose birth control pills or an intrauterine device (IUD) that contains progesterone.

This can make your periods lighter. They may also help with some of the other symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings.

There are also other prescription medications that can help control some of the other symptoms.

Other treatments available to help with the symptoms of perimenopause may include antidepressants for mood swings, herbal options for hot flashes, and vaginal lubricants for vaginal dryness.

Additionally, you may also feel better if you do things to enhance your general well-being like quitting smoking, exercising, drinking less alcohol, decreasing caffeine and getting more sleep.

Are my perimenopausal symptoms normal, or something to be concerned about?

Irregular periods are common and normal during perimenopause. But other conditions can affect your menstrual cycle.

If any of the following situations apply to you, see a doctor to rule out other causes:

• Your periods are very heavy, or they have blood clots

• Your periods last several days longer than usual

• You spot between periods, or after sex

• Your periods happen close together

If you are experiencing symptoms that interfere with your life or well-being, schedule a visit with an Ochsner gynecologist.

Diana Farge, MD, is a Baton Rouge native and practicing obstetrician and gynecologist. To schedule an appointment with her at Ochsner Medical Center- River Parishes, call 985-652-7000.