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Have you heard of perimenopause?
While menopause is generally when your periods stop - usually between the age of 45 and 55 - perimenopause is the time leading up to this.
Although you might not have heard about perimenopause, it can have a significant impact, with 86 per cent of women saying they experienced mental health issues as a result.
The survey by Healthandher.com found for 58 per cent of those surveyed, low energy and motivation were the main issues, while 53 per cent said it was low mood and depression, along with anxiety, which was reported in 50 per cent of respondents.
Meanwhile, 42 per cent reported anger and mood swings while one in 10 even said they’d had suicidal thoughts.
Online, women are bravely sharing their perimenopause experiences.
One person wrote: "Migraines right before my period, horrific mood swings, and my libido absolutely tanked. Lasted about 2 - 3 years."
While another said: "First real symptom was trouble sleeping, I couldn't sleep more than 5 hours at night. I would just wake up around 4 in the morning and lie there until it was time to get up. This went on for about 6 years."
And a third added: "My first symptoms were anxiety attacks and hot flashes."
"I thought I was pregnant. Swollen breasts, hot flashes, hungry, water weight, light/no period, and temperament change," added a fourth.
“The average age for menopause is anywhere between 45 and 55, with most becoming menopausal around 51,” says gynaecologist Dr Nitu Bajekal .
“Perimenopause means ‘menopause in transition’. It’s the time leading up to the complete cessation of periods. This usually lasts around four years but can last anywhere from two to eight years. So, you can see if your periods are going to stop at 45, some women with perimenopause can start to have symptoms in their late-30s, and many people don’t realise that.”
Symptoms of perimenopause are similar to symptoms of menopause itself, and include hot flushes, sleep problems, reduced sex drive, low mood, anxiety and just not feeling like yourself. Brain fog and difficulty concentrating are also reported symptoms.
With perimenopause though, Dr Bajekal says symptoms can “wax and wane”, and your periods may become irregular for a few months, then return to normal for a bit.
“You might sometimes think you’re going crazy, because for two or three months you’re having symptoms, then you’re not, your hormone levels fluctuate. You think, ‘Did I imagine that? Is this really happening?’” She says.
“Empowering women with knowledge is key, because once you know something, you’re not so scared of it.
“You’re not overthinking it, your brain isn’t going into overdrive thinking, ‘Oh God, what’s wrong with me? Do I need anti-depressants, why do I sometimes not feel like doing anything, why do I feel a bit removed from my relationship?’”
Dr Bajekal says it’s important women don’t feel dismissed by their GPs, but doctors should investigate any other possible underlying causes if necessary.
“Because people may be depressed, for example. But it’s about being open to the idea that perimenopause is something that also needs to get the attention it hasn’t [been getting]," she says.
If you do feel dismissed, Dr Bajekal recommends asking to see someone with a special interest in this topic. “Within the GP group, there will be people who have special interest in, say, cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, women’s health and menopause,” she says.
“It’s about being more aware of the symptoms, the condition, and then women can decide what they need. Do I just need to learn more about this so I can feel empowered? Do I need hormone replacement? Do I need to see someone about my mood?”
Dr Bajekal is a huge advocate of the role of lifestyle too, and cites nutrition, sleep and regular exercise as key.
“And stress,” says Bajekal. “Identify your sources of stress and find ways of managing it, whether it’s through breathwork, yoga, meditation, walking with a friend. Avoiding alcohol and excessive caffeine and smoking; all these can make menopause and perimenopause worse. Whether you take medication or not... lifestyle should always be there – the nutrition, the exercise, the laughing with friends and looking after your mental health.”
Dr Bajekal’s also advises the importance of taking note of any gynaecological changes that may need to be checked out more thoroughly and stay up to date with smear tests.
“I see it every day, patients who’ve been told, ‘Don’t worry, you’re having heavy periods because you’re heading to the menopause’. No – it’s not normal. If you’re having heavy periods, very irregular periods, new pain in your periods, you should not ignore it.
"And if you’re having pain or bleeding after sex, make sure it’s investigated.”
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock
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