Feeling warm from the hot summer weather is to be expected, but for certain women, hot flashes may be a sign that they are perimenopausal, the medical term for approaching menopause. In this article, we will cover common perimenopausal symptoms, demystify facts from fiction, and provide tips for effectively handling this stage of life.
What is Menopause?
A woman has reached menopause when her ovaries no longer produce the hormone estrogen. The official sign that menopause has arrived is 12 consecutive months without a period. This time signals an end to a woman’s fertility.
Naturally, menopause occurs at different times for each woman. Most women can expect to enter menopause between age 45 and 58. However, about 95% of women will encounter menopause between 45 and 55. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the average age when women in the United States become menopausal is 51. The age at which periods began (menarche) has no impact on when menopause comes on.
Note that premature menopause can occur at a much younger age than 51 due to medical conditions or treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Additionally, women who have their uterus and ovaries surgically removed during a total hysterectomy or bilateral oophorectomy will experience surgical menopause. Since the ovaries are no longer present to produce hormones and the uterus is absent, these women immediately stop having periods and are likely to have pronounced menopausal symptoms.
What Does Perimenopausal Mean?
“Perimenopausal” refers to the time leading up to menopause during which a woman’s ovaries gradually produce less and less estrogen. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) states that this period typically lasts between seven and 14 years. The good news is that 40% of women have no noticeable symptoms during their perimenopausal time. The other 60% will experience different signs of approaching menopause in varying severity.
Also, just because perimenopause can last for years does not mean that a woman will experience symptoms during this entire time. While a decrease in estrogen defines the official beginning of perimenopause, a woman may not notice symptoms until a few months before menopause definitively arrives.
What are the Symptoms of Approaching Menopause?
Hot flashes are probably the most well-known perimenopausal symptom. While hot flashes are certainly a common problem for women approaching menopause, not all women will encounter this issue. Additionally, there are several other signs that are common in perimenopause. These are, in summary:
- Hot flashes, often occurring during sleep
- Trouble sleeping due to hot flashes and other causes like night sweats and chills
- Moodiness and irritability, often exacerbated by lack of sleep
- Decreased libido (sex drive) as well as pain during sex, often from vaginal dryness
- Abnormal menstruation. Periods may be heavy, light, erratic, or any combination of the three.
- Thinning hair
- Weight gain from a slowed metabolism
- Dry skin
- Decreased breast fullness
- Appetite changes
How to Address Menopausal Symptoms?
An OB-GYN is the medical specialist best suited to help women through menopause. Depending on the type and severity of symptoms, treatment can range from counseling to hormone therapy. At Dr. Garofalo’s office, Laury Berkwitt, APRN, specializes in women’s Hormone Replacement Therapy. Click here to request a consultation.
As a woman nears menopause, her body undergoes dramatic hormonal changes. Some would say that these changes are as significant as those experienced during puberty. Women can experience emotional issues during this time, not only as a result of hormonal fluctuations but also from the stress of dealing with other perimenopausal symptoms. It is important that women in this situation seek assistance from their support network, including their medical team.
Even though period changes are a normal part of menopause, women should always keep their OB-GYN aware of menstrual changes, just to make sure there is no underlying concern. Additionally, women should inform their doctors of all symptoms, including hot flashes and insomnia, and should tell their physicians about any depression and/or anxiety right away.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to alleviate menopausal symptoms may be available if your OB-GYN deems it appropriate. These treatments can take the form of injections, pills, vaginal creams or gels, and transdermal patches. Many women find HRT to be enormously helpful in dealing with menopause.
Additionally, OB-GYNs and primary care physicians can offer invaluable advice on the management of symptoms, such as over-the-counter medications. They are also an excellent source of guidance on diet and exercise to combat the weight gain that many women notice during menopause.
Menopause often brings many changes to a woman’s body, but you do not have to go it alone. Turn to your OB-GYN and other healthcare providers for help with both physical and emotional issues during this time of transition.
About the Connecticut OBGYN Practice
Dr. John Garofalo, M.D., is a CT OBGYN based in Fairfield County, providing care for Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Weston, Rowayton and the surrounding areas. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.
Laury Berkwitt, APRN, is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Women undergoing signs and symptoms of menopause can make an appointment with Laury for Hormone Replacement Therapy. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s health care in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for more than 10 years, caring for women of all ages.