All women hit menopause at some point – some younger than others. Here we break down the signs and symptoms of menopause and perimenopause.
August is Women’s Month in South Africa, where we pay tribute to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. It is also a time to shine a spotlight on women’s health, so this month we are dedicating our health content to the greater cause of spreading valuable information and awareness.
Menopause is something that will happen to all women eventually. The main thing to remember is that menopause is a completely natural, biological event.
What Exactly Is Menopause?
Menopause is the time that marks the end of your menstrual cycles. It’s officially diagnosed after you’ve gone 12 months without a menstrual period. Symptoms can include physical discomfort and hot flashes as well as mood swings. Women may experience disrupted sleep and lower energy levels.
What Does Perimenopause Mean?
Perimenopause means “around menopause” and refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause. Perimenopause marks the time when the ovaries gradually begin to make less and less oestrogen. The average length of perimenopause is four years, but for some women, this stage may last only a few months or last as long as 10 years.
In perimenopause, there is still a slight chance you could become pregnant. So if you’d rather not go down that road, birth control is recommended until one year after your last period.
The Signs That Menopause Is On Its Way
In the months or even years leading up to menopause, women may experience irregular periods and a list of symptoms that may include: vaginal dryness, lower sex drive, hot flashes, chills, night sweats, disrupted sleep, mood swings, a slowed metabolism, weight gain, thinning hair or drying skin.
Irregular periods are normal during this time, but other conditions can cause changes in menstrual bleeding and it’s worth visiting your doctor for a check-up, to rule out any other potential causes.
How Does One Diagnose Perimenopause?
When visiting your doctor for a check-up, be clear about all the symptoms you are experiencing and note when the change started happening, how frequently you are experiencing symptoms and if anything else is unusual or different. A blood test to check hormone levels may also help, but your hormone levels are changing during perimenopause, so it may be more helpful to have several blood tests done at different times for comparison.
When a woman suspects she’s in perimenopause, it is an excellent time to have a complete medical examination.
When a woman’s FSH blood level is consistently elevated to 30 mIU/mL or higher and she has not had a menstrual period for a year, it is generally accepted that she has reached menopause, according to menopause.org.