I was gliding through my 30’s, heading towards my 40’s and not at all considering that menopause was anywhere in my near future. I’ll confess that at that point I didn’t even know that perimenopause was a thing and blithely ignored the hard cold fact that since my mum and Granny both went through menopause quite early in life there was a statistically very high chance I would too.
In fact, I was hoping to extend our family and it was this TTC (trying to conceive) journey which revealed I was in fact showing all the signs of perimenopause. We had been TTC for a year and my periods were all over the place, so I decided to try using home ovulation tests. These showed positive at unexpected times, and I had a couple of early and one later miscarriage. Apparently declining fertility can cause higher levels of luteinizing hormone which can give false positives on pee on a stick type ovulation tests.
I don’t want you to be surprised by perimenopause so I’m going to tell you what they don’t tell you about this time of life. I know you are wondering “Do perimenopause symptoms go away?” and probably also wondering how long do perimenopause symptoms last. As a veteran survivor of both peri and menopause I can tell you what to expect. You are not alone!
Perimenopause Menstruation MadnessThe first and most obvious symptom is a change to your normal monthly cycle. I have always been regular with a predictable flow which I could plan for. I bought tampons and pads to see me through the days of spot, medium, heavy then lighter flow and I knew exactly when to avoid wearing light coloured clothing on my bottom half. Then increasingly it was like my body had betrayed me with long periods (no pun intended!) of barrenness followed by quantities of blood only usually seen in low budget horror movies. I took to wearing massive tampons AND night-time pads and it was not unusual for me to have to change them on a depressingly frequent basis.
Look away now if you are squeamish but on one memorable occasion on a day out, we had an hour’s drive to our destination and when I got out of the car, I realised I had bled through the double sanitary protection and my clothes staining the car seat. I was mortified. I ended up using a menstrual cup which I could feel bubbling giving me a little time to quickly empty it cutting down on the number of accidents I had.
This changing of cycle is not the same for everyone. Some people notice their periods become lighter and/or less frequent before stopping altogether. (Fun fact, when 12 months have passed without a period you are officially in menopause.) Others notice that menstruation becomes more frequent, sometimes with very short gaps of a couple of days between bleeds. You may find your periods are the same flow as previously but go on and on and on…….
Perimenopause Mood Swings
If you suffer with premenstrual tension, you may find the mood swings you get in perimenopause are very similar. Except in my case my hormonal roller coaster was rather more dramatic than previously. I once joked that my internal simmering rage was such that if my partner dared place a mug down without using a coaster, I felt like I wanted to kill him, then revive him and then slaughter him again in a more unusual and painful way.
It was a little bit like an out of body experience as I could hear myself ranting over something minor but had very little control over my words and actions. There were a lot of tears too. Luckily that passed and I’m happy to report the entire family survived this trying time. A sit down with a calming tea blend can really help you get through these stressful times along with talking your feelings through with those affected so they understand it’s the hormones talking shouting.
Does Perimenopause Cause Bone Loss?Now this is an important one to know. Hormone changes in Peri and menopause can vastly affect the density of your bones which can cause trouble, especially down the road. You are more at risk of fracture and even seriously disabling injuries if you don’t look after your bones, especially as perimenopause takes over. Bone loss is also called osteoporosis but there are easy and natural ways to prevent bone loss in perimenopause.
Calcium intake for osteoporosis is crucial and you can get this through taking supplements or ideally increase calcium in your diet. Most people know milk, yoghurt and cheese and other dairy products contain calcium but there are other choices. So, what are the best non-dairy calcium rich foods? Non-dairy milk substitutes often have calcium added so when you are shopping make sure that your fave plant milk has added calcium.
Almonds are great but are high in calories so if you are calorie counting aim for just a handful (about a quarter of a cup) to get the benefits. Chia seeds are calcium rich and they also contain Boron which helps the body metabolize calcium phosphorus and magnesium. Throw chia seeds into smoothies, oatmeal or yoghurt for a quick calcium hit. Kale and other green leafy veggies also are great for providing calcium along with butternut squash, orange juice and sweet potatoes.
As well as protecting your bones by maintaining good levels of calcium you will be helping maintain your teeth too. Scientists are divided on whether the old wife’s tale about losing teeth in peri/menopause is true but my experience certainly was that my dental health took a downturn.
Do You Get Hot Flushes in Perimenopause or Menopause?Everyone has heard the jokes about hot flushes (or flashes if you are American) during menopause but can you get hot flushes during perimenopause? The answer is yes, but not as commonly or as often as in menopause. Hot flashes can start in your early 40’s and for many people are no joke. They can feel like you are burning from the inside out and can be accompanied by sweating and flushed skin. Hot flashes can strike at day or night, can be triggered by stress or tiredness and can last around five minutes. Night hot flushes are especially unhelpful if you are also suffering with sleep issues.
If you are one of the unlucky few to experience hot flushes, dress in layers using clothing made from natural fibres like cotton, silk, linen or wool so you can strip off when the heat strikes. Carry a deodorant/anti-perspirant to freshen up afterwards and for extreme cases you can buy a gel filled neck scarf which will stay cold when wet and help cool you off. Cut down on caffeine and opt for fruit juices, water and caffeine free teas known to help encourage calm moods and better sleep or energise you if that’s what you need after a bad night!
Hair, Skin and More.
Some women find that perimenopause can affect their hair. Mine changed texture and felt dry and coarse and wouldn’t hold dye so I had an extreme cut and now rock short grey hair instead of long blonde locks. Some people find hair falls out when washing, when they brush or when they run their fingers through it. Others report their hair gets thinner and you might even notice it recedes slightly. A trip to the hairdresser can sort out a colour which uses more natural pigments and a style which suits your changing hair.
I also noticed changes in my skin. There’s a reason the beauty industry makes a fortune out of skin care products for older women. I used it as an excuse to update my skincare products, routine and makeup choosing items which suited my skin and the change in my skin tone and hair colour. Don’t let these changes get you down – think of it as time for a perimenopause glow up!
Now let’s talk about “down there.” No-one ever does talk about vaginal dryness, loss of sex drive or increased vaginal and bladder infections. There are adverts that talk about urinary incontinence, but I bet you think that’s a long way off for you. Sorry but LOTS of women experience at least some of these symptoms in perimenopause.
My advice would be, don’t suffer in silence but book a perimenopause health MOT with your GP who can help with many of these issues. Hormonal vaginal pessaries don’t overload your whole body with hormones but can work wonders with vaginal dryness and prevent painful sex issues. Drink plenty of liquids like water or teas with hydration properties to help keep everything lubricated. Avoid drinks which can dehydrate which include alcohol, juices, coffee and energy drinks.