Moving closer to “the change”

Identifying factors of perimenopause


The female body is a medical marvel. Not only does it have the capacity to operate and sustain its own life, but a woman’s body also can conceive and sustain the life of another.

Various hormones, organs and the reproductive system as a whole help set females apart from males. The complex cocktail that enables a woman to reproduce will continue to evolve as she ages, until the body comes to a point when it begins to shut reproduction down once and for all. Menopause represents the curtain call of reproduction. But prior to that happening, women may start to see the first signs that their childbearing days are coming to a close.

Perimenopause is the period of time that comes between the consistent menstruation and fertility of reproductive years and menopause. It often is a time of transition that can bring with it a variety of symptoms. Franciscan Health says perimenopause can be a hormonal roller coaster that tends to begin when a woman is in her forties. However, some women notice changes as early as their mid-thirties. Estrogen and progesterone hormones are the key players in a woman’s reproductive cycle. As these hormones rise and fall unevenly, women often notice their menstrual periods become longer or shorter. Some menstrual cycles may occur in which ovaries do not release an egg at all. Some women also experience menopause-like symptoms, such as vaginal dryness, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, and mood swings.

Many women know they’ve reached menopause when a period has not occurred for 12 months. But women may not be so certain when they are in perimenopause. Here’s how to identify that this transitional period has begun.

• Periods begin to change. Menstrual periods might be heavy, light, long, or short. One of the most consistent characteristics of perimenopause is inconsistency, especially as it pertains to menstrual periods. Low-dose birth control pills may be able to keep women more regular.

• Fibroids or heavier bleeding. WebMD says that periods can become heavy during perimenopause due to a drop in the hormone progesterone. The lining of the uterus becomes thicker before it is shed. Others experience growths in the uterus known as fibroids.

• Hot flashes may start. Some women may experience flushing and sweating during the day or night. These flashes also may wake a person from sleep.

• Mood changes. Mood swings, irritability or increased risk of depression can happen during perimenopause. These changes may stem from sleep disturbances or hormonal changes.

• Changes in sexual function. The Mayo Clinic says that, during perimenopause, sexual arousal and desire may change. This can affect intimate relationships with partners.

Perimenopause is a transitional period when the body begins to adjust to fluctuating hormones as it draws closer to a cessation in menstruation and fertility.