Am I in Perimenopause or Just Being Grumpy?
It’s hard to know what’s going on in my head and body some days, I seem to have become more irritable with the kids and husband, especially during the school holidays. Add to this the fact that I am 47, almost 48 which is the average age for perimenopause AND I also happen to have three hormonal teenagers in the house. So the fiery combination of our transitional stages of life is poorly timed (although typical).
Perimenopause isn’t something that we women talk about much. I had heard of menopause but it wasn’t until my mid forties that I was aware that the prefix ‘peri’ could be added to that dreaded word.
After chatting to women who are older than I am and have already passed through menopause, as well as my peers who are wondering what the heck is happening to them, and also doing some online research, I have reached the conclusion that I have actually passed perimenopause and now officially in menopause. Which is slightly distressing as I’m younger than the average age for menopause. However, it’s also a relief as it explains a lot – all the strange symptoms I have been experiencing, although they’re not all that comfortable or pleasant, are completely normal.
Once I understand something, it really helps me to come to terms with it. I’m realising that going through perimenopause is a legitimate excuse for being grumpy! So on that note…
What is Perimenopause?
This stage is also known as the menopause transitional phase and can begin anywhere up to 10 years before menopause. During this stage, the levels of oestrogen (estrogen US) and progesterone hormones in your body start to fluctuate and decrease. Your ovaries produce eggs eratically (it is still possible to fall pregnant during this stage) and your moods can be up and down from one minute to the next.
Your menstrual cycle will start to change, it may become shorter or stretch out longer and your periods may become heavier. That’s not all though…
Symptoms of Perimenopause including grumpiness:
- Changing periods (length of cycle, duration, heavier or lighter)
- Hot flashes
- Cold Flushes
- Night Sweats
- Wait gain
- Panic attacks
- Sleep disturbances or Insomnia
- Mood swings and irritability/grumpiness
- Loss of confidence and feeling invisible
- Increased PMS
- Urinary leakage
- More frequent urination
- Urinary tract infections
- Concentration difficulties
- Nausea and headaches
- Migraine headaches
- Ocular or aura migraines with vision problems (eg flashing lights or spots)
- Breast tenderness
- Weight gain
- Dry Mouth
- Mouth Ulcers
- Bloating and flatulence
- Skin changes (eg acne, dry skin, oily skin, itchiness)
- Change in spatial perceptions and awareness (clumsiness/being accident prone).
- Decreased libido (sex drive)
- Painful intercourse
- Vaginal dryness
- Aches and pains in muscles and joints
- Diarrhoea and/or constipation
- Hair changes (loss)
- Fertility issues
Do you see what I mean? After reading that long list, it’s hardly surprising we women don’t enjoy perimenopause. I feel annoyed just reading it!
Once your periods become irregular it should take about four years before they stop altogther. However, perimenopause can take be as short as a few months. Factors that would affect the onset and length of perimenopause include:
- surgical intervention such as hysterectomy
Signs you should visit the GP:
These are some of the things you would be best advised to visit the doctor for if you are concerned:
- Spotting after your period
- a suspected urinary tract infection
- large blood clots during your period
- bleeding after intercourse
- longer or shorter than normal periods – this can be due to fibroids or hormonal imbalances, both of which are treatable, but you need to rule out the possibility of cancer
- OR if any of the symptoms of perimenopause are severe enough that they interfere with your daily life
Your GP can perform blood tests to check your hormone levels, however, as these fluctuate daily and from person to person they would also take into consideration all of your symptoms. You may be referred for further investigations such as a scan to check for fibroids, a hysteroscopy (extremely uncomfortable procedure where a camera is inserted into your womb via your cervix) or a D&C. You may also be referred for Hormone Replacement Therapy.
When is HRT relevant?
Many women turn to hormone replacement therapy during menopause. If you are experiencing menopause prematurely you may wish to consider this as you would be at higher risk for stroke, heart disease, despression, dementia and osteoporosis.
Things you can do to help diminish the symptoms of Perimenopause:
- Exercise regularly – regular exercise will help with lowering weight gain, mood swings and hot flashes.
- Eat smaller meal portions
- Quit smoking
- Reduce your alcohol intake, replace it or avoid it altogether
- Reduce caffeine intake, limit to the mornings
- Dietary adjustments – 1. Increase protein intake as this is a time when your muscle mass can diminish. 2. Increase Omega 3 fatty acids, this is associated with improved moods and decreased inflamation. 3. Increase fibre eg wholegrains, beans, asparagus. 4. Increase calcium as this is a stage when you are at increased risk of osteoporosis. 5. Limit saturated fats. 6. Limit highly refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, white pasta, cakes. 7. Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Menopause starts at different ages for different women. One of the best ways to know when yours will happen is to ask your mum or older sisters as it usually is genetically determined. The average age for menopause is 51 in the US or 52 in the UK. Before 40 years is considered to be premature menopause, before 45 years is early menopause.
If you have not menstruated for 12 consecutive months, you are in menopause.
Symptoms of menopause:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Irritability/grumpiness (still)
- Mood swings
- Frequent urination
- Dry skin
- Vaginal dryness
- Increase in cholesterol levels
On a positive note I admit there are huge benefits and a whole lot of freedom from not having periods and its associated discomfort anymore.
There are a few factors that would increase your risk for an early onset menopause:
- Heavy drinking
- Smoking – this can bring menopause forwards by 4-5 years
- Being a passive smoker (lived with a smoker) for more than 10 years
- Certain beauty products (check the ingredients for hormonal disruptors)
- Unmanaged stress
- Sexual trauma
- Ovarian removal
- Toxins such as Phthalates, PCB’s and BPA from heated plastic, certain candles, air fresheners, coffee pods, fatty fish farmed in polluted waters
- Processed food
- Being too thin/eating disorders
- Autoimmune diseases
- Genetic Disorders
- Certain infections like T.B., malaria and mumps
Don’t forget to keep up wth your regular female health checks such as cervical smear test and mammograms.
Are you experiencing a Midlife Crisis? I expore the female variety in more detail in this post.
Here’s a website filled with plenty of useful information on perimenopause and menopause: My Second Spring
This is not an easy stage of life, mourning the loss of our fertility can be hard. Add to this that we are also mourning the loss of our youth with ever increasing wrinkles on our necks and faces, reduced mobility, greying hair, age spots on our hands and cheeks, sagging breasts, stomachs and buttocks, the outlook seems extremely dim. The challenge is to be able to address our concerns and learn how to live with a changing and changed body so it’s important to seek out counsel if you are feeling depressed.
I think I’ve established that I’m grumpy, not because I’m in perimenopause, but that I have had to go through these changes in the first place! However, I guess any stage of life is filled with challenges and a a result it’s always good that I check myself and learn how to deal with them appropriately.