If you’re suffering from hot flashes, irregular periods and mood swings, you might think you’re in menopause. It’s a common misconception. But what you’re really going through is perimenopause, the transition when your ovaries gradually stop working.
Menopause is the end of that transition, and you’re considered to be in menopause when you haven’t had a period for 12 months. For most women, menopause happens at about age 50.
Here’s everything you need to know about perimenopause – including some facts that might surprise you.
Perimenopause Can Start Sooner Than You Think
Perimenopause can start any time between 40 and 50 years old. On average, you’re likely to start when you’re between 40 and 44 years old. For some women, this can start as early as your 30s.
There Is No Set Length for Perimenopause
The perimenopause process can last five years, or it could last just a year or two.
Irregular Periods Are Common
During this time, the biggest symptom is irregular periods. You might have a month with no period, and then it returns the next month. The amount you bleed each cycle may also change drastically.
You Can Still Get Pregnant
During perimenopause, you can still conceive, but it is more difficult. After age 40, your risk of giving birth to a baby with Down Syndrome is higher. If you do miss a period, it’s best to take a pregnancy test just to be sure.
Your Hormones Affect More Than You Realize
During perimenopause, your hormones are decreasing, which can affect you in a variety of ways, including:
- Less energy
- Decreased sex drive
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping
Testosterone Can Be Used as HRT
Hormone treatment is a great option to decrease the symptoms that show up as estrogen levels drop. You may think your only option is to replace estrogen, but there’s another HRT: a testosterone pellet inserted under the skin.
Testosterone works as a stand-in for other hormones. Replacing estrogen comes with a slight increased risk of breast cancer; replacing testosterone has not been shown to increase this risk. The under-the-skin pellet option works for about four to five months.
Taking Supplements Can Help
Once perimenopause starts, estrogen decreases. Estrogen protects your bones, so less of it means a greater risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Exercise can help. So can taking vitamin D and calcium supplements. Start early with these preventive measures.
Perimenopause Can Cause Depression
Depression during perimenopause is common due to hormonal changes. If everything else in your life, such as relationship and job status, has remained stable, it is likely that perimenopause is causing depression. Talk to your doctor about treatment options.
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