Just as a girl gradually become a woman with the start of her first period, a woman slowly transitions from her childbearing years to menopause. The hormonal and physiological changes don't happen overnight. This is a good thing because hormones are powerful and too much change at once would be difficult to cope with. This transitional phase leading up to menopause is referred to as perimenopause, and there are plenty of fluctuations during this time. Here is a look at four things every woman should know about this change of life.
Perimenopause Usually Takes Several Years
Once a woman enters her forties, her body will begin producing less estrogen. Some women may even begin this decline in their thirties. Women are born with all their eggs, and when the eggs are beginning to run out, the ovaries don't need as much estrogen. As a woman nears towards 50, this decline in estrogen will increase even more. Menopause is considered complete once a woman has gone 12 full months without a menstrual cycle.
Perimenopause May Make Premenstrual Syndrome Worse
Some women have suffered throughout their childbearing years with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Unfortunately, if you are one of those women, the hormonal changes of perimenopause may exacerbate your PMS each month, even if you don't end up getting a period. Bloating, headaches, mood swings, and cramps may intensify.
Perimenopause May Make Your Periods Worse
Many women are under the mistaken impression that their periods will get lighter and less frequent in the years leading up to menopause. This may be the case for some women, but far more experience heavier, more frequent periods. Many women also experience PMS as well as severe cramping for the first time in their lives.
Some women find they must deal with large blood clots or such heavy bleeding it adversely affects their life. Others may bleed non-stop or have cramps that almost feel like contractions in intensity. While this can be a normal part of perimenopause, it's important to see your OB/GYN to rule out things like fibroids, adenomyosis, endometriosis, or cancer.
You Can Still Get Pregnant During Perimenopause
Just because your periods are irregular and your estrogen is declining doesn't mean you can't still conceive. Few women care to get pregnant at this stage of life. Women who previously used the rhythm method or natural family planning based on cervical secretions as their birth control method won't be able to safely rely on this method anymore, and hormonal methods may not be best for some women, so it's important to discuss avoiding pregnancy with your OB/GYN.