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Perimenopause: The Bridge to Menopause

Just about every woman has heard of menopause. What is discussed less frequently is perimenopause, the transitional time of a woman's life that precedes menopause.

Perimenopause Defined
Perimenopause is the stage of life in which a woman's body makes the transition from regular menstrual cycles and ovulation to permanent infertility. During this time, your periods begin to become irregular and there's a good chance you'll experience some of the more bothersome symptoms mentioned below and discussed in more detail on HFN. Every woman is different, and there is no fixed definition to this irregularity.  The culprit is your fluctuating estrogen level.

HFN 031 PerimenBridge 1 27999555 Periods may become heavier or lighter, shorter or longer, and the intervals may become more or less frequent. This stage will continue until you have gone through 12 months in a row without a menstrual period, at which point you will officially be entering menopause.

Timing
Perimenopause typically begins when a woman is in her 40s. It's important to remember, however, that there is no single rule that fits every single woman regarding when this stage will begin and end. It isn't uncommon for some women to enter perimenopause in their 30s, and in some cases, even earlier. While the average perimenopause lasts for four years, its duration can vary from several months to ten years. It's important to remember that during this transition period you can still get pregnant, so if you use birth control, don't stop now if pregnancy is not on your wish list. Women who undergo an oophorectomy (the surgical removal of both ovaries) and have not yet experienced perimenopause, will enter menopause overnight.

Symptoms
You may also encounter symptoms that people usually associate with menopause, such as vaginal dryness, night sweats, hot flashes, tender breasts, fatigue, decline in sex drive, incontinence, and mood swings. Don't worry, just because you're entering perimenopause does not mean you will experience all of these symptoms. Some women do go through all of the above symptoms and others, but many women may exhibit only a few. The number and severity of perimenopause symptoms varies from woman to woman and sometimes resembles the experience that the individual's mother had.

When Should I See a Medical Professional?
Whether you have a health problem or not, it's never too early to see a doctor. Seeing a physician as soon as you begin to notice irregularities in your menstrual cycle could have unforeseen benefits in the future. First and foremost, you will be establishing a relationship with a specific doctor, which can make it easier to discuss some of the more difficult menopause symptoms you are sure to come across down the road. Another benefit is, from that point forward, all of your information and medical history will be recorded, making it available for your doctor to review to help make better medical decisions for you personally in the future.

It may also be the case that your irregular periods are not a symptom of perimenopause. Certain types of birth control pills, pregnancy, clotting issues, fibroids, and even cancer, can all have an effect on the menstrual cycle, making it even more important to consult a physician. ♀

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