- Hot flashes - be prepared for overheating at a moment's notice. These can be especially bad at night. Occasionally, these are accompanied by nausea.
- Sweats - Usually these follow the hot flashes as your body cools back down.
- Irregular bleeding - periods which can last a few days but come and go at irregular intervals, sometimes months apart. Estrogen is giving up the ghost...slowly!
- Facial hair - these appear out of nowhere, often overnight, usually on your upper lip or chin. it is worth buying a 10x magnifier to spot them - be prepared for a shock the first time you use it - you may discover you have a moustache!
- Sleeplessness - closely linked to the hot flashes. You may spend a lot less time sleeping peacefully because body temperature will be causing you to wake up a lot more. You will get a bit more fatigued a bit more quickly.
- Weight gain - extra pounds seem to appear from nowhere. Your eating habits have not changed, only your waistline.
What is the Peri-Menopause?
Women go through a variety of physical changes during their lifetimes.
The peri-menopause is that period of time between menstruation and menopause.
It is a transition between being fertile and able to have children and being physically beyond child bearing.
The peri-menopause can be of short duration; indeed it varies from woman to woman, but for some women (me included), it can seem never ending.
It is not unusual for the peri-menopause to last up to a decade.
The peri-menopause is caused by the physical changes brought about by hormonal changes.
Estrogen and Progesteron are no longer being produced at the levels they were when we were young and in our prime.
Instead, a woman's body begins the peri-menopausal phase and starts to get some or all of the symptoms listed below.
We should not all look at it with a sense of dread - it does vary from person to person and you may not get all of the symptoms.
I hope this light hearted look at the peri-menopausal symptoms will help you to understand it a little bit more and learn how you can cope with your own issues.
"But I Don't Want to Be The Bearded Lady!"
I include the photo as a way to make you smile and not to put any fear into you.
Why do women start growing extra hair in the perimenopause?
The main reason is that your estrogen levels are falling and can no longer compete with androgen (testosterone). Androgens cause hair growth.
How to prevent hair growth?
- Eat healthily! Cut down on complex carbohydrate. Estrogen is a hormone closely linked with the production and use of insulin in the body. If you eat too much carbohydrate, your body will burn fat more slowly and produce too much insulin which in turn produced more androgens.
- Estrogen is known to work in tandem with insulin; scientists have claimed that the fall in estrogen as women get older is one of the main reasons for weight gain so a dietary change to less carbohydrate could help with two of the symptoms - facial hair growth and weight gain.
- Keep your tweezers handy or buy some wax strips or hair removal cream if the problem is bad. Try not to stress too much about this; it is a transitional phase and will pass in time. Remain vigilant, check your mirror once a week or so and get those tweezers pulling!
Hot Flashes / Cold Sweats/Sleeplessness
Most women will have both hot flashes and cold sweats during the peri menopause.
The temperature around you will just seem to rise for no reason - even outside.
Of course, it is not the external temperature which has changed but your own body temperature.
Why Does Your Body Temperature Change During Peri Menopause?
The technical term for hot flashes (or flushes) is 'vasomotor' symptoms and at the root of all hot flashes is estrogen. Yup, estrogen is pretty much to blame for most of this!
That is why hormone replacement therapy often stops the hot flashes altogether.
Hot flashes can last a few seconds or up to five minutes and also result in facial flushing, facial sweating and occasionally blotchy patches on the neck and chest.
They can be rather inconvenient if you are at a public event but there is no way to ease them other than using a stand up, desk or ceiling fan if you are indoors.
Alternatively, you could go for a rather fine looking Spanish or Mexican fan or take the lazy route and buy a battery operated hand fan.
Hot flushes are often worse at night and you can wake up in a hot sweat and feel like you are sleeping in a furnace. The easiest way to counteract night sweats is by using the right nightwear or keeping a window open or using a fan.
Sleeping alongside your red hot (literally) partner can exacerbate the problem so try to keep your distance - you can cuddle back up once your cold sweat kicks in!
Another symptom, sleeplessness is a direct result of both hot flashes and cold sweats but should NOT be a result of stressful thoughts at night about your newly sprouted facial hair!
If you recognise that you are feeling more tired, get an early night or try to take a cat nap through the day (this is called a 'power' nap if you fall asleep at work).
Estrogen, the hormone which in peri-menopause is actually falling continues to baffle scientists.
Some claim that estrogen can cause weight loss, whilst others suggest it can also cause weight gain.
One thing is certain about estrogen - it does not work alone!
Estrogen is a hormone which does a variety of different jobs in various parts of the body.
In peri-menopause, it is being produced in smaller quantities and so some of the work it does slows down.
Nutritionalists and scientists have found that estrogen in large amounts can support the development of lean muscle and actually helps to reduce the amount of fat which accumulates in the midriff area and hips.
In peri-menopausal women, estrogen levels are depleted and so that ability to shift belly fat is reduced.
Nine times out of ten, anyone gaining weight during peri-menopause gains it around the belly area first, although some, unfortunately, do see weight gain on other areas.
Because of its relationship with insulin - estrogen reduction can be offset by trying to avoid or reduce complex carbohydrates - rice, pasta, bread, sugar.
However, nothing is ever that simple - estrogen does not act the same way for every woman - its relationship with the thyroid gland can cause other problems involving the metabolism. Its hormonal properties also work with the liver, the brain and muscles among other body areas (annoying but clever little hormone).
Estrogen does a lot of work in the female body and it might be that you will have to trial a few different ways to lose the weight if it is bothering you.
But remember - it is normal to gain weight during the peri-menopause - you could see your GP for advice at any time if your own attempts to lose weight fail.
This will be one of the most annoying symptoms.
It will happen when it happens and you will have no control over it.
You may have a period in June and then not have another one until December OR you may have one in June, July.....September.....March (twice).
You get the picture?
There is not really a great deal you can do about irregular bleeding other than be prepared for it wherever you are. Carry tampons/pads in your purse with painkillers for cramps if you need them.
The type of bleeding you usually had may completely change - you may suddenly be a lot lighter and it may only happen for a day or two.
Part of you will think this is great especially if you have been used to heavy periods but another part of you will dislike the unpredictable nature of irregular bleeding.
One thing worth considering is to keep a diary and marking down when the period occurred and also some general notes about what it was like - heavy/light, painful/not painful and how long it lasted.
This way you are monitoring your body and might spot patterns, albeit over a number of months or years.
Hormone replacement can be a good way to sort out this peri menopausal symptom - it's a way of faking the production of hormones and can reintroduce some predictability.
How to counteract it
Temperature has risen suddenly for no reason, happens Summer AND Winter. Often occurs at night when you are asleep
Wear thinner night attire and ensure your duvet/bed covers are suitable . Wear layers during the day. if you get hot, you can strip off the layers.
They happen after a hot flash and your body gets cold really quickly.
See above - cover back up! Re-clothe!
Chin whiskers or hairs on upper lip, often more coarse or wiry than normal
Tweezers, facial hair remover, wax or electrolysis
Added pounds, typically around the middle but could spread depending on your body type
Eat less complex carbohydrate to stunt insulin production. Diet if necessary but try to cut down carbs first, this may work immediately.
The usual but often lighter and can happen any time but sporadically over months
You cannot counteract it naturally - you could ask for HRT if this becomes a day to day problem
Don't Panic- It's Not The End of the World
One of the most aggravating things about being perimenopausal is the not knowing.
It is a transition - the beginning of a hormonal change in your body.
Usually, it begins in your late-forties or early fifties but as I have said a number of times, women are all different and what begins for one at forty six might not begin until fifty three for another.
But hey, don't panic! Most people don't like change but like all change, in time, you get used to it.
You will learn to read your own body for signs - your first hot flash comes out of the blue but then you keep having them. The bad news is, sometimes they stop and then start again.
Your irregular periods will actually annoy you because they once came like clockwork but hey, it's less aggro less of the time!
The weight gain can be managed if you are so inclined but again, it is a sign of your body changing and eventually, things will settle down again though it might mean some dieting.
Like all change - you learn to live with it and you also learn to manage it so that it does not disrupt your life too much. Being peri menopausal is a reminder that you are human and above all, you are a woman and being a woman has its own challenges.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and that you no longer feel like the only person sitting fanning yourself in a pool of your own sweat whilst eating a diet sandwich in the park...it'll be over soon and you'll officially be in 'the menopause'....and a whole new adventure begins!
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