Do you think you might be experiencing the perimenopause? Here’s the Live Better With guide to identifying the symptoms, plus tips and recommendations for coping with them...
At any given time millions of women around the world will be going through perimenopause – but it can last for up to 15 years, so it often goes unrecognised or undiagnosed even if women are struggling with one or more typical perimenopausal symptoms.
Doctors in the US and the UK are now beginning to see more and more young women in their 30s, and even in their mid-20s, who have perimenopausal symptoms.
In this blog post on perimenopause, you’ll see some of the most common symptoms associated with this time in a woman’s life, but recent research suggests that there could be more than 30 different symptoms, all stemming from fluctuating hormone levels. And it’s not just a matter of shifting levels, but the ratio of one hormone level to another. In this post, we’re taking a look at different ways to ease the symptoms that you’re most likely to experience during perimenopause.
What symptoms can I expect during perimenopause?
As your hormone levels start to change, you may have fewer or more frequent periods, periods, or spotting between periods. You may also notice some or all of the following:
- aches and pains (random or increased)
- hot flushes
- lower libido
- mood swings
- pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms become worse
- sex can be uncomfortable or even painful
- sleep problems
- tender breasts
- urinary incontinence or urgency
- vaginal dryness
- weight gain
These are just the most frequent symptoms but there are other less common ones and there is growing evidence that decreased oestrogen levels can increase chronic (long-lasting) pain conditions. If you are already trying to cope with muscle or joint pain, it may begin to get worse but should ease up once you are through the first year of full menopause - when you haven’t had a period for a year.
Perimenopausal symptoms – what can help?
In the past, perimenopausal symptoms often went unrecognised or misdiagnosed; that is changing, albeit too slowly in some cases, as doctors and other medical professionals gradually become more aware of when perimenopause can start, how long it can last, and the symptoms associated with it.
If you recognise all or any of the symptoms we’ve listed above, ask your GP to check your hormone levels, so that you both have a better idea of what’s going on (this test is usually conducted if you are over the age of 45). Your GP may recommend some form of hormone replacement therapy or vaginal oestrogen cream, for example, if it’s suitable for you. Although many women have found that HRT has helped them enormously through perimenopause and menopause, prescribing can be patchy.
Some of our Community Forum members going through perimenopause were offered or prescribed HRT, but others were refused, despite having typical perimenopausal symptoms. In addition, it’s not suitable for women with certain medical conditions or particular family medical histories, while other women simply prefer not to take it.
What works for one woman may not work for another; for example, one of our Community Forum members said that, much to her relief, her troublesome migraines stopped when she started using HRT patches, while another member found that the patches triggered migraines.
It’s a personal decision and it’s important that you feel comfortable and reassured about the way you choose to deal with your perimenopausal symptoms. We’ve put together some recommendations and suggestions, including supplements, which could help you.
- Aches and pains: for joint pains try a pain-relieving gel or a soothing rub for muscle pains. (You’ll find our full range of products and supplements for aches and pains here.)
- Anxiety and depression: ashwagandha, maca, rhodiola, St John’s wort or try a tension soother balm (see our full range of supplements and products aimed at beating perimenopausal mind games here.)
- Fatigue, tiredness and exhaustion: chromium, co-enzyme Q10, iron, maca, vitamins B6 and B50 complex, or try a silk sleep mask or soft bamboo pyjamas (and see Sleep below.)
- Hot flushes and night sweats: black cohosh, maca or try a cooling spray (see our full range of products to help hot flushes and night sweats)
- Libido (lowered or loss of): maca, omega-7 (and see Vaginal dryness below.)
- PMS and tender breasts: evening primrose oil, avoid caffeine and salt before bedtime and try a herbal tea, such as camomile instead, or try a bamboo bra for extra comfort.
- Sex (uncomfortable): try using a gentle lubricant.
- Sleep (insomnia or poor sleep): maca, valerian (see our full range of recommended products to help you beat tiredness and fatigue and sleep better.)
- Vaginal dryness: ascophyllum, sea buckthorn oil, omega-7 and try a soothing, organic vaginal moisturiser (see our full range of products for vaginal dryness and loss of libido here.)
- Weight gain and metabolism: ascophyllum, chromium+magnesium (combined) and take a look at Mimi Spencer and Sam Rice’s excellent cookbook, The Midlife Kitchen (see all our products to help manage your weight and metabolism here.)
Sometimes, it’s something very simple that can help, as one Community Forum member, found when she was having to cope with night sweats: ‘Drinking plenty of water throughout the day really helped me with the sweats for sure!! Certain foods like spicy or too much sugar or too much alcohol used to do me no favours either in that department!’
Being sensible about perimenopause treatment
It’s a good idea to keep track of any symptoms and keep a note of what makes them better or worse. If you find one or more of your symptoms doesn’t respond to any particular treatment or approach and you are continuing to have problems, do consult your GP or a medically qualified menopause specialist. If vaginal dryness continues and sex becomes painful, for example, you do need to have this checked, as it may be due to a condition such as vaginal atrophy or lichen sclerosus, so a prompt diagnosis and correct treatment is important.
We also recommend that you consult your medical practitioner before you start taking any supplements, especially if you are taking prescription medication of any kind.
You don’t need to suffer through perimenopause!
Perimenopause may be a natural part of a women’s life – but that doesn’t mean that suffering is obligatory! It can take a little while to work out what is going to work best to help your perimenopausal symptoms but, rest assured, you will get there - and Live Better With is dedicated to helping you do so.
Visit the Live Better With Menopause Community Forum for information, advice, and tips, and to share your own questions and suggestions.