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  • Writer's pictureKaren

Perimenopause v's Menopause - What's the difference?

Since 2009, it has been designated by the International Menopause Society (IMS), in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), as a month to raise worldwide awareness about menopause.

I’m almost 48 and currently in the midst of what is referred to as perimenopause. It’s something I didn’t even know existed until about two years ago. One day I asked my doctor what I could do about the itchy scalp that was recently driving me up the walls (I’d even de-loused my head three times and found nothing) and she suggested I try tea tree oil or coconut oil for dry skin.

After a glance at my file, she uttered something that sounded like menopause.

I went home, poured a white wine spritzer, and decided to try some coconut oil for the dry scalp.

Menopause? What is Menopause?

Menopause, I discovered, is a perfectly normal part of female aging. It usually occurs in the late 40s or early 50s as women transition from fertility to non-fertility. As the reproduction system slows, the production of estrogen is naturally reduced in the body, causing unpredictable hormone changes.

The symptoms we experience during “menopause” are the result of the body adapting to these hormonal changes.

As the estrogen decreases, the menstrual cycle begins to change. Sometimes periods arrive closer together, sometimes further apart until they stop permanently.

What Are the Symptoms of Menopause?

Menopause symptoms vary from woman to woman.

They generally include but are not limited to, hot flushes, night sweats, lack of libido, mood swings, dry skin, less energy, and interrupted sleep. Lack of concentration, feelings of depression, and anxiety, as well as, hair thinning, and unexplained weight gain are also symptoms.

Sounds fun doesn’t it.

The good news is that we don’t experience all of the symptoms, just some. And the truth is, menopause can be a lot less daunting after some research and understanding.

So back to perimenopause, what is that?

Well, the menopausal process happens in three stages – Perimenopause, Menopause, and Postmenopause.

Perimenopause begins as women approach their late 40s, about 7-10 years before menopause is diagnosed. During this stage, the ovaries gradually start to reduce the production of estrogen to slow down the reproductive system. Essentially moving from fertility to non-fertility.

Menstrual cycles continue during perimenopause, although they typically become irregular as less and less estrogen is produced over time. And symptoms like night sweats, dry skin, and not-so-pleasant mood swings can occur for up to four years.

What Helps With Perimenopause?

Yoga and meditation can greatly help to relax the tension that results from mood swings. Conscious breathing is one of my best friends now. Research and understanding help too, because things are always easier to manage when we understand what is happening.

Laughing with girlfriends about the symptoms and craziness is a savior. And explaining what is going on to partners and family is vital, so they know that the mood swings are really have nothing to do with them.

My husband has developed an incredible skill to stay silent while I rant about trivial things like running out of milk. Bless him. Our ten-year-old son gives me hugs when I’m salty and tells me “It's just the menopause talking”. (I explained it to him by likening it to the changes kids experience when going through puberty, but not in too much detail).

Symptoms also come and go during the perimenopause phase. So it’s not all crazy madness. There can be weeks, sometimes months of feeling like your usual happy self.

What Happens After Perimenopause?

Menopause is the stage we enter once the ovaries have ceased releasing eggs and the menstrual cycle has not occurred for twelve months in a row. Symptoms generally begin to subside slowly during this time but can continue mildly for up to five years.

Postmenopause is the time after menopause has been diagnosed. And then, by all accounts, women sit right back into the saddle of life again.

As a very wise friend of mine puts it, “It’s called meno-pause, not meno-stop.”

It’s just a pause, a transition in life. We’re not broken. Or old. Or depressed. We’re not going crazy. And we are not less of a woman because we are no longer fertile. We’re just slowing our reproductive system so we can prepare the body to have more fun in the second part of life.

What Helps Menopause Symptoms?

Understanding – I can’t say it enough. Reading up on your symptoms (from trusted sources) helps immensely to explain what you are feeling and it also eliminates unnecessary worry about why things might be changing.

Make self-care a priority. If you feel like you need a time out, take it. Lack of energy is a real thing during menopause. And sometimes you’re going to have to replenish with some me-time. Don’t feel guilty about that.

Movement - Carve out some time to move your body every day. Even if it’s just a short walk in the fresh air, it will help. Exercise like yoga, jogging, cycling, workouts, or aerobics can be especially helpful in the mornings to start the day with a clear mind and a tension-free body. But if you’re not a morning person, any time of the day will bring similar benefits.

Meditation is like a warm comfort blanket for the mind and soul at the best of times, during perimenopause, it’s like a sanity catcher. Each time we practice, meditation teaches us to come out of our heads and reconnect with what is going on in the body. This sort of awareness can hugely improve what we think, feel, and express during this changing phase of life.

Nutrition – Eating well, by including lots of vegetables, salads, and fruits in your daily intake of food will go a long way toward improving anything that is going on in the inner workings of the body. Drinking at least two liters of water every day helps with hydration and keeping menopause headaches at bay.

Natural Supplements – Natural herbs and remedies have been used since ancient times for women’s wellness and despite the development of modern medicines, and hormone replacement therapies, the natural remedies continue to work today. Vitex, a Mediterranean herb, helps to regulate and balance hormones during perimenopause, while Ginseng can relieve hot flushes, and vitamin D helps with bone strength after the decrease of estrogen.

So, let’s raise awareness ladies. World Menopause Month. Let’s talk about it out loud and educate those around us. Women, moms, wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, female employees, and female employers everywhere deserve it. By talking about it unashamedly, we can increase societal awareness together.

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms and think you may have entered the menopausal phase of life, talk with your doctor for more understanding. Don’t let them turn you away with a dismissive, ‘it’s just part of life’ or an anti-depressant. Ask for help in creating a natural plan to guide you through it.

Menopause is a perfectly natural part of life. And with awareness, it’s much easier to navigate.


Have yourself a great day!


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