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Is this the start of menopause?

For most of us, menopause isn’t like flipping a light switch. It’s a gradual transition that usually starts between ages 45 and 55. That’s when the amount of estrogen and other hormones from our ovaries begins to fluctuate. The transition time is called perimenopause, and it typically lasts about seven years. Once you’ve gone a full year without a period, you’ve reached menopause.

So how can you tell if you’ve started perimenopause? Everyone’s a little bit different. Some people only notice small signs, others have a few symptoms they can manage with lifestyle changes, and some benefit from support from their doctor. 

You may be in perimenopause if you notice:

Your menstrual cycle is changing

Some people have shorter cycles than usual, and some have longer. Periods could get lighter or heavier. It’s also common to skip periods. (But if you skip a period and you’re not sure if it’s perimenopause, you may want to take a pregnancy test.)

You’ve noticed vaginal dryness and bladder changes

Hormonal changes may make your vagina drier, which can lead to discomfort during sex. These changes can also make vaginal or bladder infections more common. Some people have less bladder control, so urine may leak when they exercise, sneeze, or laugh. 

You’re getting hot flashes

If your face or body suddenly feel hot or you break out into an unexpected sweat and red blotches, you might be having a hot flash. Hot flashes can vary quite a bit between people and from one time to the next — they can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes, and they can range from mild to intense. At night, hot flashes (also called night sweats), may make it hard to sleep well. 

It’s harder to get a good night’s rest

A lot of things can impact your sleep around perimenopause. Night sweats may keep you up. Some people also experience mood changes, including depression, which can make it hard to sleep. All this is on top of the fact that perimenopause tends to happen at the same time as lots of other life stressors, from caring for aging parents to managing a demanding career and preparing children to leave home. Each of these things can impact sleep — and not getting enough sleep can make managing everything else harder. 

Your mood is down

Some people struggle with their moods during perimenopause. Mood changes are most common in people with a history of depression or PMS, but they can happen to anyone. It’s not clear whether mood changes are a part of the physical shifts during menopause, or if they come from the stress of life changes and sleep disturbances. Either way, if you have symptoms of depression, or you’re just struggling with your mood, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to help.

You’re gaining weight

For some people, the hormonal changes during perimenopause can make it easier to gain weight, especially around the stomach, hips, and thighs. Gaining weight is just something that happens more easily as people age. 

What about induced menopause?

Some people go directly into menopause without the transition. This happens if the ovaries are surgically removed. It can also be the result of some kinds of chemotherapy, radiation, or medication that triggers menopause to help treat an illness. You can still expect the changes that come with menopause, but without the gradual transition.  

Talk to your doctor if…

Whether you’re going through perimenopause, or induced menopause, talk with your doctor if changes in your body or mind are bothering you. There are lots of things — from lifestyle changes to natural remedies and prescription medications — that can help.

If you’re not sure where to start, or you just want to talk through your perimenopause questions, reach out to your provider. They should be well-versed in menopause care and be able to explain the changes that happen around menopause.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team


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