Perimenopause: The Underdiagnosed Condition

Everyone knows about menopause; it’s the time in a woman’s life when her reproductive cycle ends, typically in one’s early fifties. But long before that—often in the forties and sometimes even as early as the mid- to late-thirties—approximately 3 million women will experience perimenopause or “around menopause.” When estrogen and progesterone levels begin to decrease, menstrual cycles may become irregular, and other less obvious symptoms can rear their head as well, such as disrupted sleep; fatigue; vaginal dryness; decrease in sex drive; mood swings and depression; difficulty concentrating; noticeably dry hair, nails, and skin; and a change in cholesterol levels. Some women may even experience hot flashes.

While it’s more common than you might expect, perimenopause is a little-talked about condition, and one that can bring with it feelings of shame, which can lead to—or compound—depression. After all, no woman wants to feel older than she really is, and the idea that you’re losing your femininity too soon can be a real source of anxiety. It doesn’t have to be that way, though, particularly if more doctors—like OB-GYNs—made it a regular part of their discussion at routine exams with women in their late-thirties and up.

Instead, women often don’t seek help, or worse, are told to just tolerate the symptoms. If you suspect you have perimenopause and your symptoms are interfering with your day-to-day life, talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing. They might order tests to check hormone levels, but may also be able to diagnose you based on your age, family history, and symptoms. While hormone therapy is a somewhat controversial treatment, it’s worth discussing it with your doctor if your symptoms warrant it. And while alternative therapies like acupuncture, vitamins, and herbal supplements haven’t been proven to cure perimenopause, anecdotally some women find relief in them. Just be sure to discuss them with a trusted doctor first. There are other things you can try that certainly can’t hurt: changing your diet or exercise regimen can help reduce symptoms, or at least act as a mood booster during this often difficult transition. Exercise is a natural antidepressant, as well as a libido charger, and eliminating foods that are high in fat and sugar can also naturally improve some conditions. Cutting back on caffeine can also bring better sleep.

But, perhaps most important, women need to feel reassured that this isn’t the end of their femininity, and opening up to friends and especially one’s partner is a huge step in making the topic less taboo. Perhaps now, more than ever, is the time to buy that racy dress you’ve been eyeing or take a romantic weekend getaway—whatever it is that makes you feel like your sexiest self. Plus, talking to your partner about what you’re going through ensures that he or she won’t take it personally if you’re a little moodier than usual. Perimenopause can go on for years and years before full-blown menopause sets in (when you cease having a period for at least a full year), and figuring out how to combat the stereotypes and symptoms surrounding it will only improve your overall sense of well-being.



Photo Credit: useLightspring/Shutterstock

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