Menopause is a part of nearly every woman’s life, and so it is no wonder that some of the most common health questions entered into Google include “what is the difference between menopause and perimenopause?

What is Menopause?

We need to start by defining exactly what menopause is, and how it affects your body.

Menopause is defined scientifically as the point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period has finished. While menstruation can become very sporadic and unpredictable in the years leading up to menopause, you are not considered to be fully menopausal until this point.

Most women experience full menopause around the age of 55, but this can vary greatly depending on the individual. Before menopause, a woman typically spends between 7 and 14 years in the menopausal transition, also referred to as ‘perimenopause.’

Of course, some women experience menopause as the result of a hysterectomy or the removal of the ovaries, the organs that produce hormones. Any woman who has one of these surgeries who does not take hormonal replacement therapy will immediately begin to experience the symptoms of menopause.

What is Perimenopause?

Often, when someone says they are ‘going through menopause,’ what they actually mean is that they are experiencing perimenopausal symptoms. This usually begins happening around the ages of 45 and 55, but can be much earlier (as early as late 20s for some women) or later.

During the perimenopause a woman’s ovaries begin to produce less oestrogen and progesterone. These lower hormone levels mean that fat distribution changes throughout the body (often resulting in a thicker waist and wider hips) and bones become less dense. This loss of bone density can make women more vulnerable to breaks and fractures.

Here are some of the most common signs that you are in perimenopause:

  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • A lack of energy
  • Insomnia
  • Low mood, irritability, and anxiety
  • Low libido
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Discomfort during sex
  • Increased urinary frequency
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Headaches

When to see your GP?

While some women do not find perimenopause to be a source of discomfort, many do express frustration and irritation with their symptoms. If you find that your symptoms are negatively affecting your quality of life, you should make an appointment with your GP. They may choose to refer you onto a menopause specialist.

In some instances, your GP might order a series of blood tests that are designed to measure your follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estradiol (E2) levels. This will rule out any other potential causes for the symptoms and discomfort that you are experiencing.

While this time period can be stressful, it is always a good idea to check in with friends and family who have experienced the same thing

Women supporting women is the best support system out there, and you will find that learning about others’ experiences will help you to get through your own perimenopausal period.

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