Menstrual irregularity, or a condition when menstrual periods change from the norm, is a common perimenopausal symptom. Some women experience these menstrual irregularities as much heavier or much lighter than they are used to. The menstrual period can take a longer or shorter number of days each month than the norm. Most commonly, however, women skip a number of months of their menstrual period. Some women mistakenly assume that they are pregnant when they first start experiencing these symptoms.
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Hot flashes are a perimenopausal symptom that displays as an intense feeling of heat in the body, which is usually followed by a red flush on the face and chest. Hot flashes can last anywhere from 2 minutes to half an hour. Night sweats sometimes (but not always) accompany hot flashes if the hot flash occurs while the woman is asleep. This leads to heavy sweating which leaves the bedding and night wear soaking with sweat.
Some women experience sleep problems during their perimenopausal years. This insomnia is sometimes linked to the night sweats and heart palpitations. In some cases, however, women fail to fall asleep without experiencing any other perimenopausal symptoms. Insomnia can also lead to other perimenopausal symptoms like fatigue caused by a lack of sleep. It can also lead to depression as a direct result of tiredness and stress from lack of sleep.
A woman’s mood changes during perimenopause can be detrimental to her and the people that she communes with on a regular basis. These mood swings are similar (to a lesser degree though) to bipolar disorder, where the sufferer is deliriously happy one minute, and the very next is in a fit of rage. A perimenopausal woman can also be highly irritable in situations that would not have triggered her emotions prior to the perimenopause.
Heart palpitations are experienced by some women during perimenopause. This perimenopausal symptom is evidenced by a heart that seems to be beating much faster than usual. Heart palpitations usually accompany hot flashes. If they don’t, however, a perimenopausal woman should speak to her doctor about the possibility of heart disease.
Loss of or Decreased* Sexual Desire
A lower sexual desire can also be attributed to perimenopause for some women. This perimenopausal symptom is usually linked to other symptoms like fatigue, depression, vaginal dryness or sleep problems. As a result of lower or fluctuating production of estrogen and progesterone hormones, a woman may lose* her sexual desire completely. These hormones are not only responsible for a woman’s fertility, but also for her sexual desire. Therefore, lower levels of these hormones could adversely affect her libido.
Vaginal dryness in perimenopausal women is caused by lower levels of estrogen in the body. This hormone is responsible for keeping the vaginal tissues moist. It also helps in keeping these tissues thick and elastic. Without this hormone, a woman’s vagina becomes dry, less elastic and thinner than usual. Vaginal dryness makes intercourse painful or uncomfortable, and may also lead to lower libido because of the pain the woman knows she will experience. This symptom is more common during perimenopause than during the actual menopause stage.
A woman’s eggs are all formed (all 1.9 million of them) by the time she is born. The ovaries do not produce a new egg each month, but rather release eggs that have been in the ovaries since birth. By the time a woman reaches puberty, more than half of these eggs have died off through natural processes. This dying off process (called atresia) continues until menopause, when there are no eggs in her body anymore. Hence, by the time a woman reaches perimenopause, her fertility has significantly decreased*. This decrease* in fertility is also caused by the lower hormonal levels, which make it difficult for the ovaries to do their job of releasing any remaining eggs into the fallopian tubes.
Extreme fatigue is a common perimenopausal problem which can last up to a few months. It is believed that the body is trying to adjust to sudden fluctuations of estrogen in the body, and this may lead to extreme tiredness all the time. Insomnia, another perimenopausal symptom, does not help in this regard, often making an unbearable symptom even worse.
Changes in Sexual Function
A number of perimenopausal symptoms that affect a woman’s sexuality can change her sexual functions. For example, if a woman has lower sexual desire, is extremely tired all the time and is experiencing vaginal dryness, then this will adversely affect her normal sexual function.
Memory problems are a mental or cognitive symptom of perimenopause. This symptom sometimes lasts beyond perimenopause and through the first year of the menopausal period. Memory problems are associated with short-term memory loss where women have a hard time remembering names and faces of people they have just met, or remembering where they left the car keys. They may also forget important appointments. Memory problems are also linked to what is termed brain fog – which is a lack of mental clarity and attention during perimenopause. Research studies confirm that this perimenopausal symptom has a higher prevalence in women who experience severe hot flashes and negative moods.
During perimenopause a woman may experience a symptom that is not spoken much about – urinary incontinence. This symptom is quite embarrassing for a perimenopausal woman because she may experience bladder leaks at inappropriate times. These can be triggered by simple activities like sneezing, laughing or coughing. Doctors believe that lower levels of estrogen cause urinary symptoms in perimenopause because estrogen is also partly responsible for bladder control and health.
Perimenopause is the period of transition just before the onset of menopause. This transitional period is usually four years long, but can take anywhere from a few months to ten years in some women. During this transitional period, a woman’s ovaries start to produce lower levels of estrogen and progesterone, and a woman may experience varying levels of severity of the menopausal symptoms. These perimenopausal symptoms do not indicate that she is in actual menopause, however, and a doctor’s tests will be able to confirm this for her. Perimenopause usually starts in a woman’s 40s, but can come as early as mid-30s for some women.