The other night at Erin’s Boot Camp I mentioned that I’m in the midst of perimenopause and asked if anyone was interested in learning more. There was an overwhelmingly positive request for info, so here it is.
Menopause is the normal change in women’s lives when we stop menstruating. It brings a lot of changes to our bodies, but we don’t all experience it in the same way, any more than we experienced the start of that part of our lives in the same way. Technically, menopause is said to have occurred when one has not had a period for 12 consecutive months. Perimenopause is the time leading up to that cessation, and it can last for almost no time to years. There isn’t really a typical duration, nor can one predict how it will be based on family history, personal health, menstrual history, etc. One of my friends used to say that because she had started menstruating early she would probably end late. But she didn’t. How your mother or sisters experienced it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be the same. There is no one way. Each of us is unique to ourselves.
I’m soon to be 54, and that’s a pretty normal age for this to be occurring. One of my girlfriends had the lucky experience in her early 40s of almost skipping over perimenopause—one month she had her normal period, and the next month she didn’t, and she never did again. Other friends have had different experiences, including one friend who said that her perimenopause lasted eight long years. There’s no one “normal” way.
Irregular periods are common, including ridiculously heavy bleeding for days (“flooding”), spotting in between periods, and so on. Hot flashes are also extremely common. Hot flashes are exactly what they sound like: Out of the blue, one suddenly gets very very hot, even dripping sweat. Night sweats, poor sleep and irritability are other hallmarks, and I’ve had them all. One of my friends said that she felt like she didn’t sleep at all for a year. Another lauds her husband because she has had to change sodden sheets in the middle of the night a number of times because of night sweats, and he doesn’t complain.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms, do whatever you need to do to deal with it. If you need the occasional sleeping pill (I find that a half-pill is easily sufficient), just take it and don’t worry about it. Don’t be a martyr! Fitness helps, but does not prevent entirely, by any stretch. Exercise helps with sleep, and reducing your alcohol intake can help with the hot flashes. On the other hand, if a glass of wine helps you get through that cranky moment, go for it! And don’t let anyone tell you that there is a right or wrong way to get through it. What works for one woman might be totally unhelpful for another. Do what is right for you.
There are a couple of cautions to all this. If you experience flooding that just doesn’t seem to want to stop, see your doctor. Similarly, if you seem to have finished with all of this and then you suddenly start spotting again, after a 12-month hiatus, see your doctor then, too. There could be other issues of cysts, etc., that you need to have looked at.
Poor Erin has had to read my whines for the past few months as I struggle through this, and she’s been great about accommodating my aches and pains. For me, the experience has been one of month-long periods, many sleepless or sleep-disturbed nights, and constant heat. Husband has blankets pulled up around his ears at night while I open the window and strip off pyjamas and sheets to get some cool air. I’ve also been experiencing extreme back ache and a lot of cramping of fingers, toes and legs. For the cramping, I’m trying to drink a lot of water and eat bananas to increase my potassium levels. My doctor also recommended that I take extra D and E vitamins along with my daily multi-vitamin.
There are, of course, many on-line resources about menopause. A useful, no-nonsense book is The Healthy Boomer by Peggy Edwards, Miroslava Lhotsky and Judy Turner (McClelland & Stewart, 1999—I happened to index this years ago for my long-time client Peggy).
Mostly, you just have to remember that every single woman on the planet goes through this, and so can you.