When we think of perimenopause, many of us immediately think of menopause and therefore think it is a condition that only affects women of a "certain age." But what is that age? When do women start experiencing the symptoms associated with perimenopause? You might be surprised to learn that it can occur a lot earlier than you think.
What is perimenopause?
A patient of mine, Samantha*, was a young girl in her 30s who seemingly had a vibrant life and everything going for her. Gradually, things began to fall apart for the Los Angeles native as a "mystery condition" enveloped her life. Unfortunately, despite numerous visits to a variety of doctors, no diagnosis or answer was found. Despite her young age, Samantha was constantly exhausted, severely depressed, and suffered frequent bouts of nausea. Insomnia exacerbated her already debilitating fatigue and lack of mental focus. To make matters worse, joint pain made it difficult for her to participate in the active lifestyle that had always been at the core of her daily life. Samantha also began noticing vaginal dryness, which made sex painful and resulted in a loss of libido.
How do you treat perimenopause?
The distress caused by these symptoms continued for 10 years, until Samantha was successfully diagnosed with perimenopause, something she would never have thought possible in her early 30s. Perimenopause, which is the transition to menopause, is often caused by significant hormonal shifts. Therefore, once Samantha was properly diagnosed, she began receiving bioidentical hormone replacement therapy that swiftly brought her body back into balance.
Is Samantha a unique case? No! Despite the preconceived notions about perimenopause, Samantha isn't alone. Today, a large percentage of women experience (and will experience) perimenopause some 10 years earlier than their mothers, and 15 years earlier than their grandmothers—a trend that has resulted in large part due to societal and environmental stressors.
Unfortunately there is a widespread lack of awareness, understanding, and implementation of proper treatment of perimenopause, both within the medical community and society in general. To ensure that you are able to correctly identify perimenopause in yourself, it is important to listen to your body and know key symptoms that could indicate the onset of this condition. The symptoms of perimenopause—which are different for every woman—do not only include the classic hot flashes, night sweats, and weight gain.
What are symptoms of perimenopause?
Here are other key indicators to monitor:
- Sleep disturbances (night sweats, nightmares)
- Hair loss
- Thinning nails
- Changes in body odor
- Poor gum health
- Brain fog
- Vaginal dryness
- Muscle cramps
- Joint and muscle pain
- Dark under-eye circles
- Unusual hair growth (on the face, around nipples, between breasts, down your back)
Once you have identified a loss of normalcy in your body's balance and diagnosed your own symptoms as perimenopause, the next step is to find how to get the best treatment. My recommendation is to go to your doctor armed with knowledge. Ask your doctor to dig deeper to find the root cause of your symptoms instead of rushing to simply prescribe medication. To truly understand what's going on in your body, extensive blood work analysis is essential for determining the levels of important hormones, like estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. Hormones are the software that run your body and they are responsible for almost every reaction that takes place inside of us. So it's not surprising that when they decrease during perimenopause, a variety of distressing symptoms occur.
How can bioidentical therapy help perimenopause?
The results of your blood tests will allow your doctor to fully understand what's happening within your body and hopefully why you are experiencing your specific symptoms. She (or he) can then develop an action plan that will ideally include bioidentical hormone therapy. Unlike synthetic hormones, these have a number of possible health benefits, including helping reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes to name a few. You may also want to consider some highly targeted natural supplements that will help with specific issues such as digestion, sleeplessness, and mood swings. Slight lifestyle changes like reducing stress through meditation and other coping skills can also be invaluable when combating perimenopause as well as menopause.
Despite what you may have previously thought, if you are in your early 30s you are not too young to be encountering the effects of perimenopause. However, there is no age when you should accept feeling anything less than your most energetic, vital, fulfilled, and your most radiant self. Thankfully, today there are numerous noninvasive and natural treatments to ensure that perimenopause doesn't sideline you in your own life.
*Name changed for privacy of client