Perimenopause—the period of a woman's life shortly before menopause—is like that one member of the family no one talks about. At best, people confuse it with its "cousin" menopause, and at worst, it's ignored by women, their partners, and even medical professionals. However, it's important to know everything we can about this phase of life, which can begin much earlier and last much longer than you might think. Technically, menopause itself is one single day—the anniversary of your last menstrual period. But perimenopause, the transition from your reproductive years to menopause, can last anywhere from five to 15 years.
We all experience perimenopause differently.
Some of us pass through it smoothly, but many of us suffer a variety of symptoms that go far beyond the classic hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and weight gain. That’s why it rarely occurs to us—or even our doctors—that we may be in perimenopause. Consider the experience of a patient that I chronicle in my new book Radiant Again & Forever: Jessica was in her early 30s and had what looked like the perfect life. But gradually, things began to go south for this Los Angeles native. She found herself exhausted every day and unable to sleep at night, which only made matters worse. Joint pain started to encroach on the active lifestyle that she had always cherished. She experienced bouts of nausea and began to notice vaginal dryness and her interest in sex started to decline. There was no plausible explanation for any of these issues, and even after multiple doctor visits, Jessica couldn’t pinpoint the issue.
The torment continued for years until Jessica finally learned that her symptoms were all part of perimenopause, something she would never have thought possible at such a young age. Unfortunately, her story is not an anomaly.
We should look out for a specific set of symptoms.
Other symptoms that might signal perimenopause are depression, hair loss, thinning nails, changes in body odor, poor gum health, lightheadedness, brain fog, muscle cramps and pain, and dark under-eye circles. Once you’re aware that perimenopause—which is characterized by massive hormonal shifts—may be causing your problems, it’s time to seek solutions. Together with your doctor, you can do a deep dive to find the root cause of your symptoms instead of simply providing a Band-Aid solution by treating them with drugs. That process can be as simple as getting your blood drawn. Your doctor will perform an extensive work-up to determine your levels of estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone; these hormones are the software of the body and they govern almost every reaction that takes place inside of us. So it’s no surprise that when they plummet during perimenopause, a vast array of symptoms can occur.
If we are in perimenopause, there's a lot we can do.
Once your doctor has a clear picture of what’s really going on, he or she can recommend a treatment plan that will ideally include bioidentical hormone therapy. These are not the same as synthetic hormones; in fact, they are molecularly identical to the hormones your body produces. You may also want to consider a customized regimen of natural supplements that will help with specific issues such as sleeplessness, mood swings, digestion, and brain fog. These are the solutions we offered Jessica. Happily, her hormonal balance was quickly restored, and her symptoms disappeared.
Jessica’s story is a testament to the power of knowledge and the importance of talking about perimenopause. Listen to your body. Ask questions. Seek the answers you deserve and the treatments that will give you back your healthiest, happiest, most radiant self.
Did you know the symptoms of menopause and adrenal fatigue are really similar? Learn more here.
And are you ready to learn more about how brain health and your diet are intimately connected? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Dr. Mark Hyman.