Though many people use the word menopause to mean the years of a woman’s life after her periods stop, menopause is actually a single day. It’s the one-year anniversary of a woman’s last period. Every day after that is postmenopause — and for up to eight years before that can be a time known as perimenopause.
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause is your body’s ramp up to menopause. It’s a years-long transition, and it often starts with skipped periods, more frequent periods, heavier periods — anything other than the cycle that’s typical for you. Many women also experience hot flashes, anxiety, sleeplessness, weight gain, and vaginal dryness.
Perimenopause symptoms are different for every woman. Some experience all of the symptoms intensely. Some women sail right through with few if any symptoms (these are some very lucky women!). To complicate matters, many physicians and women themselves blame issues like anxiety or weight gain on hormones, when they can be matters of job stress, anxiety about aging, stressful midlife events like children leaving home, or a diet full of sugar and alcohol.
Am I too young for perimenopause?
The average age of menopause in the United States is 51. In general, many women start to see symptoms of menopause in their 40s. However, it is possible to have perimenopause symptoms in your 30s. Some physicians will tell a woman that she’s too young to be experiencing perimenopause at 38 or 40, but according to The North American Menopause Society, menopause occurs prematurely — at age 40 or younger — in about 1 percent of women in the United States as a result of genetic, metabolic, autoimmune, or another condition. That small number of women would experience menopause symptoms prior to age 40.
How long does perimenopause last?
Some sources say perimenopause lasts four to eight years, while others say it lasts three to five years. Every woman is different, and unless you have a hysterectomy that includes the removal of your ovaries, it’s a gradual process.
What can I do to have an easier perimenopause?
At 40 years old, our editor asked her doctor this very question. That doctor said the very best things to do were to eat right, exercise, and keep weight in check. She suggested healthy lifestyle changes, such adopting a low-fat, high-fiber diet. She said that it was a good thing that it seemed like our editor was no longer tolerating alcohol — drinking will only make perimenopause symptoms worse. She said that it’s important to exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week and to reduce stress with yoga or meditation. Finally, she told our editor to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. It’s all good, common-sense advice from which any woman can benefit.
If you are experiencing menopause symptoms that are so severe that they interfere with your daily life, you should see your doctor. Perimenopause is a natural process, and you shouldn’t have to suffer.
To learn more about what happens before menopause, read Menopause: A Heck of a Lot More Than Hot Flashes.