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Friday, April 8, 2011

Understanding Perimenopause and Menopause in Women

For the past few years, I had been experiencing severe mood swings, from one extreme to another. At times, I was very happy and then suddenly, for no reason, I would feel highly depressed, giving in to uncontrollable crying. I found it difficult to control my anger, got irritable and had a lot of anxiety and panic attacks, driving me to the depths of misery. I had also put on a lot of weight, and I kept attributing all my symptoms to other personal and situational causes, blaming everyone and anything in sight for my plight, including my hypothyroid condition (which I had recently discovered). After all, I was still young, in my late 30s. But I was shocked out of this false reverie when a timely conversation with my eldest sister suddenly put things in a different perspective.

No young woman, especially one who is in her prime of youth (mid-30s), would even dream of going through menopausal symptoms (or now referred to as perimenopausal symptoms) at that age, and neither did I. But it can happen, as I discovered, and it was happening to me. My mother and sister both had their menopause by the age of 40-41 years. This sudden realisation hit me hard, and I felt the need to understand more about perimenopause and menopause in women. That was when I began to research the subject on the Internet and now wish to share my newfound knowledge with other women out there who may be experiencing the same.

                 Exercise for Menopause
                Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Menopause, as most of us already know, is the cessation of normal menstrual period in women. Strictly speaking, menopause can be defined as the last menstrual period. However, since there are many reasons due to which a period may get delayed or skipped, to be very sure, a woman is said to have reached menopause if she has not had her periods for a complete year.

Menopause, unfortunately, is not an overnight phenomenon. It happens gradually. In order to be able to fully comprehend what exactly happens in the perimenopause phase, we need to understand what happens in a normal menstrual cycle, especially the role that hormones play in the whole process. To put it briefly, the hormone estrogen, or more specifically, estradiol and androgen are responsible for preparing the vagina for accepting the sperm. Estradiol thickens the endometrial lining and also plays a role in making the cervical mucus ready for the sperm. Androgen is converted into more estrogen by the ovaries, which helps in getting rid of the egg follicles, which are not matured completely. The hormone progesterone helps to offset the effects of estrogen and in making the endometrial lining ready for implantation, if the egg is fertilized. Progestrone is produced by the follicle, which has released the mature egg. If the egg is not fertlized the endometrial lining deteriorates and the lining is shed.

Over time, the ovaries produce fewer and fewer of the hormones Estrogen and Progesterone. As a woman gets older, the levels of these two hormones start going down, and the pituitary gland secretes higher levels of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone) to keep the ovaries working normally. The pituitary gland does succeed to a great extent and manages to keep the ovaries going for quite some time, and then eventually it gives up.

Now you have to understand that the levels of hormones produced by a woman’s body varies from person to person, and the age when the levels of production of hormones starts declining also varies. The period between the times when the levels of hormones start declining to the time when the production stops completely (menopause) is termed as Perimenopause. During this period, as explained above, the levels of hormones are shifting wildly and the same is reflected in symptoms in the body. These symptoms may be physical, mental or emotional.

It is very important for women to understand the signs and symptoms that occur during the perimenopause and menopause phase as it brings about major changes in their lives not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally as well. Therefore, it would do well for a woman to be ready to embrace these changes, and a good time to start planning a midlife wellness strategy that should begin with a complete medical check up. One needs to remember that each woman is an expert of her own body and she can have the maximum benefits in her favour if she is well informed about her condition.

The signs and symptoms of perimenopause can occur 10-15 years before the actual menopause takes place. The age when these signs and symptoms can appear in women normally range from the 45-55 years, although it varies for different women. Some women may never even experience any symptoms before their menopause. The average age, however, for the final menstrual period is 51 years.

                                            Menopause: What Every woman needs to know
                       Image source: Menopause: What every woman needs to know - by: Nathalie Fiset

The most common symptoms of perimenopause are frequent hot flashes, night sweats and coldness. There may be irregularity in the menstrual periods, which may be heavy, light, shorter or longer cycles. Every woman is different and will have her own unique signs and symptoms depending on her personal body environment and circumstances. There may be difficulty sleeping, getting to sleep or staying asleep. Women may experience changes in their moods causing them to get more anxious or depressed, or become more irritable. There may also be heart palpitations, in which case it is always best to consult a physician. Other symptoms include dry skin, hair loss, loss of libido, vaginal dryness and urinary incontinence. It is also common for a woman to gain weight during this phase. Sometimes the symptoms of perimenopause can be mimicked by other conditions also, like for example in the case of thyroid disorders. Therefore, it's always best to consult your physician before you jump to conclusions.

All the above-mentioned symptoms occur because of hormonal imbalances, mainly having too much estrogen and not enough progesterone to balance out. During this phase, the ratio of estrogen to progesterone in the body is frequently in a state of flux. The hormonal balance of most women tends to tilt to the estrogen side of the scale, as a result of diet that is high in refined carbohydrates and low in quality proteins, a lack of essential nutrients and fats, and chronic exposure to environmental toxins and artificial hormones. In today’s fast-paced, disconnected, eat-and-run world, it is no surprise that younger and younger women are experiencing symptoms of hormonal imbalance and perimenopause.

So, if you are experiencing any of these changes in your body, I would strongly suggest that you consult your gynecologist for an expert opinion and a thorough check up. There are also gynecologists who specialise in menopause, and you could search for one in your area. Dealing with, and understanding, the physical and emotional issues of perimenopause in its early stages can help you cope with them in a better, more healthful manner. There are many resources and articles that you will be able to find on the Internet that cover this topic in great detail. Check this link to get started:

Suggested Reading:
  1. What is Premature Menopause?
  2. Exercise During Perimenopause
  3. What are the treatment options for menopause? & HRT
  4. Menopause Lifestyle and Prevention
  5. Pros and Cons for Treatment of Menopause Symptoms
 Other Useful Resources:
  1. Menopause and Perimenopause Slideshow Pictures
  2. Menopause Resources
  3. Find a local Obstetrician-Gynecologist in your town

Original post on Xomba

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