Menopause occurs in most women between the ages of 45 and 55, according to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. Though usually described as one time period, it has different stages and can last several years. Perimenopause is the first of the stages and can occur from two years to up to 10 years before true menopause takes place.
Irregular periods. One of the key signs of perimenopause is experiencing irregular periods. As your ovaries begin to stop releasing eggs, you may experience regular periods more sporadically, eventually halting menstruation altogether. Until then, lack of estrogen but consistent progesterone means that the uterine lining gets much thicker during normal menstrual cycles. Your periods may be heavier, and you may experience more cramps during this time.
Hot flashes. Hot flashes are another common symptom experienced during perimenopause. The hormonal changes during perimenopause mean that the body’s internal temperature gauge is thrown off, resulting in a sudden onset of body heat that can last for a few seconds to up to several minutes, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Sore breasts. The ACOG reports that some women compare the symptoms of perimenopause to puberty. Your body begins to experience wild fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone, resulting in unexpectedly sore breasts. While sore breasts themselves are not cause for concern, any lumps or fluid expelled from the breasts should be examined by a doctor.
Mood swings. Like during a normal menstrual cycle, the imbalance of hormones experienced during perimenopause can have an effect on your moods. Dips in estrogen can lead to fogginess and trouble multitasking, as well as general fatigue, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. These mood swings can be more severe due to the lack of sleep that some women experience during perimenopause.
Changes in cholesterol. Another telltale sign of perimenopause are fluctuations in cholesterol levels. Estrogen helps lower bad cholesterol, called LDLs, and raise good cholesterol, HDLs, according to the Mayo Clinic. Perimenopause and the resulting lack of estrogen can mean that you will need to take cholesterol medications and make lifestyle changes to counteract the rise in cholesterol.
Other symptoms. In addition to mood swings, changes in periods, hot flashes and your cholesterol levels, you should also note any changes in sexual desire, skin dryness, and issues with memory and cognition. All of these are symptoms that go along with perimenopause and should be discussed with your doctor.