Suddenly Experiencing Hot Flashes And Irregular Periods? Here's What You Need To Know About Perimenopause
The sudden onset of menopausal symptoms like irregular periods and hot flashes can be distressing, but it's just a sign that your body has entered perimenopause. It's a natural part of a woman's life. The age when perimenopause begins varies greatly between women. Some start to experience symptoms in their late thirties, and their symptoms last for over a decade before menopause finally occurs. Others have very few symptoms at all until their period finally stops. If you believe that you're experiencing menopausal symptoms, read on for more information about perimenopause along with what you can do to relieve symptoms.
What Causes Perimenopause?
Perimenopause occurs due to decreasing estrogen and progesterone levels. As women age, the number of follicles in the ovaries naturally decreases, and these follicles are responsible for a large portion of estrogen and progesterone production. As the number of ovarian follicles fall, the amount of hormones that your body produces will decrease along with it.
This overall reduction in hormone levels leads to perimenopausal symptoms. In some women, the decline in hormone levels and associated perimenopausal symptoms can begin as early as the late thirties, although mid-forties is more common.
What Are the Symptoms of Perimenopause?
One of the first signs that perimenopausal women notice is irregular periods. The body requires high estrogen levels in order to stimulate ovulation. If estrogen levels remain consistently low, then ovulation will never occur. Ovulation causes a slow buildup of progesterone, which eventually causes menstruation. When ovulation doesn't happen, it can lead to a skipped period. It can also lead to a late period with very heavy menstrual flow once the uterine lining has built up enough to naturally shed on its own.
Hot flashes are the symptom most associated with menopause, and they can occur during perimenopause as well. Hot flashes can range in severity, but they generally feel like a warm sensation spreading throughout the upper body. They can cause blood vessels to dilate, leading to the face becoming red and flushed. Hot flashes also often occur at night, which can wake women up while they're sleeping or cause excessive night sweats.
Changes in sexual function are also associated with perimenopause. Vaginal dryness is common, which can lead to women feeling pain during sexual intercourse. Significant changes in libido are also fairly common, with some women experiencing an increase in libido and others experiencing a decrease.
What Treatments Are Available for Perimenopause?
Perimenopause isn't something that needs to be treated unless the symptoms are too uncomfortable to handle.
However, if your hot flashes are severe and interfering with your quality of life or preventing you from sleeping through the night, you should schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN. Treatment for perimenopausal symptoms involves taking low doses of estrogen and progesterone to raise your body's hormone levels. In most cases, this will immediately alleviate perimenopausal symptoms.
You should also schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN if you miss three periods in a row, if you have extremely heavy bleeding during your period, or if your period lasts for more than a week. While perimenopause does cause irregular periods, these symptoms can be signs of something more serious such as uterine fibroids or ovarian cysts.
Similarly, you should also speak to your OB/GYN if sexual intercourse is painful. If it's due to perimenopause, your OB/GYN can prescribe an estrogen cream that relieves vaginal dryness. If this doesn't help stop the pain, then your OB/GYN may perform a pelvic exam or an ultrasound to determine if the pain is caused by another condition such as endometriosis.
While the symptoms of perimenopause can be annoying, perimenopause itself is typically nothing to worry about. It's something that women naturally go through and lasts until menopause is complete, which occurs when a woman goes a whole year without having a single period. However, you should trust your instincts—if your symptoms are severe or if they're causing you concern, speak to your OB/GYN about them.