What’s happening to me? Signs perimenopause has started and how to deal with it

Most women experience perimenopause as they age, so what is it and what can you do to feel better during this natural process?

If you’ve passed the peak of your reproductive years, chances are you’ve heard of perimenopause.

If you’ve passed the age of 40, you may be experiencing it firsthand.

Translated, perimenopause means “around menopause” and refers to the phase when a woman’s body is transitioning towards menopause.

Of course, it’s a time that brings a whole host of physical and mental changes.

Here’s everything you need to know about perimenopause.

When does perimenopause start?

Perimenopause begins when the menstrual cycle starts changing and ends a year after the final menstrual period, Australasian Menopause Society president Dr Karen Magraith explains.

“Usually, it happens in a woman’s 40s and, on average, lasts four to six years but can last up to 10 years,” Dr Magraith says.

During this time, women will have fluctuating hormone levels leading to symptoms that can have a huge impact on quality of life.

“The pattern of hormonal fluctuations can become quite erratic and feel chaotic,” Jean Hailes endocrinologist Dr Sonia Davison says.

“Flushes and night sweats may occur some months and not others — they are often triggered by a drop in oestrogen before the menstrual period.

“Then oestrogen can shoot back up again, causing issues like swollen, tender breasts.”

Dr Davison adds that around 80 per cent of women will experience mild to severe symptoms, including insomnia, dry skin, exhaustion, migraines, weight gain, vaginal dryness and loss of libido.

“Risk factors for chronic disease also begin to rise at this time, so it’s a good opportunity for health screening and preventative activities,” Dr Magraith says.

But remember, “even though menstrual periods may be irregular, there is still the chance of pregnancy, so contraception is needed.”

How to deal with perimenopause

While menopause used to be shrouded in mystery, medical experts now know much more about it and how to deal with some of the symptoms leading up to it.

Dr Davison advises if you’re regularly feeling “miserable and exhausted” or “just over this”, you should see your GP.

Treatments can include taking the contraceptive pill to regulate your hormones, an IUD or anti-depressants.

“Unsurprisingly, healthy eating and good lifestyle habits will also make you feel better during this time,” Dr Davison says.

Remember, you’re not alone in going through this, so find a friendship group or support group you can open up to during the journey into the next phase of womanhood.

‘It’s not about toughing it out’

At 42, mum-of-two Tegan began regularly experiencing hot flushes and feeling constantly irritated.

“At first I thought it was stress from work, but when I started spotting at odd times of the month, I knew there was something going on,” Tegan, from Ballina in NSW.

She spoke with her doctor but didn’t change much about her lifestyle until she unexpectedly fell pregnant.

Sadly, she ended up miscarrying and she took the experience as a sign she needed to pay more attention to her body.

“I started swimming regularly, which has really helped me,” Tegan says.

“I also got an IUD put in because I was having really intense emotions and felt like I was losing control.”

Two years on, Tegan is glad she took action and urges other women to “listen to your body”.

“I kind of put my head in the sand thinking it wasn’t happening to me when it actually happens to everyone — it’s not about ‘toughing it out’,” Tegan adds.