Perimenopause, or menopausel transition, begins several years before menopause. Usually it starts in a woman's 40s ~ 50s and lasts about 2 ~ 5 years. Perimenopause lasts up until menopause, the point when a woman's ovaries stop releasing eggs, marking the end of the reproductive years.
During this period, along with the ovaries' decreasing function, there come many symptoms and changes due to the uneven rises and falls of estrogen. Some women can have an easy perimenopause without treatment and regulation; when you experience the following symptoms and changes, the body is telling you that you're entering the menopausal transition.
- Irregular periods. Your menstrual cycles may lengthen or shorten; the amount of menstrual blood may increase or decrease; and you may begin having menstrual cycles in which your ovaries don't release an egg. Some women may experience amenorrhea all of a sudden.
Once you have gone through 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, you have officially reached menopause and the perimenopause period is over.
- Hot-flashes. The face, neck and chest may feel a sudden heat wave, and the skin turns red followed by sweating and aversion to cold. The whole process lasts 1 ~ 3 minutes each time. Hot-flashes are common symptoms. The intensity, length and frequency vary. Some women have it a few times a day and some have it dozens of times a day, seriously affecting work and life. Sleep problems are often due to hot flashes or night sweats.
- Autonomic disfunction. These symptoms include hidrosis, heart palpitations, chest tightness, light-headedness, headache, insomnia, tinnitus etc.
- Mood changes. Mood swings, irritability, depression, lack of concentration, memory loss. The cause of these symptoms may be associated with sleep disruption due to hot flashes. Mood changes may also be caused by factors not related to the hormonal changes of perimenopause.
All the above are direct symptoms caused by hormonal changes. Although they are part of a physiological stage that every woman has to go through more or less, if some of the above symptoms are bothering you much, interfering you with your life or well-being, you can seek help from a TCM practitioner or an acupuncturist to help alleviate them with natural and physical approaches.
There are also long-term effect, which typically appear 5 ~ 8 years after menopause. It is a series of health issues due to the low estrogen level and degeneration of various organs and systems. Such as:
- Vaginal and bladder problems. Vaginal tissues may feel dry, lose lubrication and elasticity making intercourse painful. You are more vulnerable to urinary or vaginal infections.
- Osteoporosis. You start to lose bone more quickly than you replace it, increasing the risk of osteoporosis, a disease that causes fragile bones.
- Cardiovascular diseases. Unfavourable changes in blood cholesterol levels, mainly an increase of LDL, contribute to an increased risk of heart disease. Meanwhile the good cholesterol HDL decreases in many women as they age, which also increases the risk of heart disease.
- Cognitive level impairment. There are more women with Alzheimer's disease than men, probably it is related to low estrogen level.
The long-term effect due to low level of estrogen and progesterone is inevitable. It is the program imbedded in our human genes. A beautiful begonia flowers through the entire season and has to go when the time comes. With good care and some traditional Chinese medicine regulation, we may postpone the time a bit.