The onset of perimenopause may initiate in some women in their 30s, but it predominantly begins in women aged 40 to 44. This transitional phase is characterised by shifts in menstrual flow and cycle length, often accompanied by sudden surges in estrogen. Emotional fluctuations, irrationality, and a sense of being overwhelmed may arise, posing challenges in managing life’s mental load. Additionally, women may experience body aches and pains.
It’s crucial to recognise this transformation not as a failure but as a natural evolution. Personally, at the age of 59, I view this change positively, I am now on the other side living my best life. I was well managed and supported by my wonderful husband and friends along my path of transition.
A personal note to self: “I am changing, I am not failing.”
Perimenopause results from the gradual cessation of ovarian function, leading to erratic ovulation and eventual cessation. Hormonal fluctuations, especially changes in estrogen levels, contribute to symptoms. Higher estrogen levels may mirror premenstrual syndrome (PMS), while lower levels can lead to hot flashes or night sweats. These changes may coincide with regular menstrual cycles. Your body is changing and it is seeking a new normal.
Common symptoms include mood changes, alterations in sexual desire, difficulty concentrating, headaches, night sweats, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep disturbances, joint and muscle aches, sweating, increased frequency of urination, and PMS-like symptoms. Individual experiences vary, making it crucial to consult a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis, as symptoms may resemble other conditions. However, blood tests for hormones can be inconclusive and not reliable.
Treatment is typically unnecessary unless symptoms are bothersome. Options may include hormone therapy to stabilise hormone levels or antidepressants to manage mood swings (often stabilising hormones will stabilise moods as well). Lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy diet, getting sufficient calcium, regular exercise, identifying triggers for hot flashes, and seeking counselling or cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), can be recommended. A counsellor can be particularly beneficial during this phase everyone needs a safe place to talk.
Discussing treatment options with a healthcare provider is essential. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) can alleviate symptoms but may have potential side effects and risks for some people. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) may also be effective but come with potential side effects.
It’s crucial to make informed decisions based on personal health considerations, and consulting with specialists is recommended. Lifestyle modifications, though varying in effectiveness, may include maintaining a healthy weight and considering cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) for improved well-being. While evidence for the efficacy of practices like breathing exercises, relaxation, yoga, and alternative therapies is varied, individual responses may differ also. Always consult healthcare professionals for personalised guidance if unsure.
How can a partner show support?
Supporting a woman going through perimenopause and menopause requires understanding, empathy, and open communication. Here are some ways men/partners can offer support during this transitional phase:
1. Educate Yourself:
· Take the time to educate yourself about perimenopause and menopause. Understanding the physical and emotional changes women may experience will enable you to offer informed support.
2. Open Communication:
· Encourage open communication. Create a safe space where the woman feels comfortable discussing her experiences, concerns, and any symptoms she may be facing.
3. Be Patient:
· Understand that hormonal fluctuations can impact mood and emotions. Be patient, empathetic, and avoid dismissing or minimising her feelings. Sometimes, just having someone to listen can make a significant difference.
4. Learn About Symptoms:
· Familiarise yourself with common symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, such as hot flashes, mood swings, and sleep disturbances. Being aware of these symptoms can help you provide better support.
5. Offer Emotional Support:
· Offer emotional support during moments of frustration, anxiety, or sadness. Sometimes, a comforting presence and understanding can be more valuable than offering solutions.
6. Assist with Practical Matters:
· Help with practical matters, especially during days when symptoms are more challenging. This can include assisting with household chores, childcare, or anything that may alleviate her stress.
7. Educate Others:
· If you’re in a family or workplace setting, help educate others about perimenopause and menopause. This can create a more supportive environment for the woman and reduce any stigma or misunderstanding.
8. Encourage Self-Care:
· Encourage and support self-care practices. Whether it’s taking time for relaxation, exercise, or engaging in hobbies, self-care can play a crucial role in managing symptoms.
9. Accompany to Medical Appointments:
· Offer to accompany her to medical appointments. This shows your commitment to her well-being and allows you to be informed about any treatment plans or recommendations from healthcare professionals. Tip: Two minds are better than one when taking in clinical information sometimes.
10. Be Understanding About Intimacy:
· Be understanding about changes in intimacy that may occur due to hormonal shifts. Open communication about desires, concerns, and any physical changes is essential for maintaining a healthy relationship.
11. Consider Couples Counselling:
· If the changes impact the relationship significantly, consider couples counselling. A mental health professional can provide guidance and strategies for navigating these changes together.
12. Encourage Healthy Lifestyle Choices:
· Support healthy lifestyle choices, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress management. These factors can positively influence symptoms and overall well-being.
Remember that every woman’s experience with perimenopause and menopause is unique, so it’s essential to tailor your support based on her individual needs and preferences.
A support question: How can I support you daily and who do I need to be for you?
Asking the question with compassion is key: A women needs time, tenderness and for you to catch her tears.
A woman is brave- She is Independent and She may need to lean into you from time to time.