Experiencing difficult menopause symptoms? Some women seem to go through perimenopause and menopause without missing a beat. But others find themselves ‘dazed and confused’ by what is happening to the way they feel every day.
Many people think of menopause as the time when periods stop, and symptoms start. But most symptoms actually begin long before menopause. They start to appear during perimenopause — the time leading up to the end of menstruation. This is a longer period than most women realize — on average, four years before menopause, the time when a woman has had no period for a year.
Menopause Symptoms are Common but Intensity Varies
Some of the more common perimenopause and menopause symptoms are:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Changes in emotional well-being
Unfortunately for some women, some symptoms become intense enough to throw them off keel. They experience:
- Brain fog
- Body aches
- Panic attacks or intense emotional distress
- Excessive fatigue
These symptoms can be too disruptive to ignore.
You may have tried to tell your friends what you’re going through but they don’t understand. All the other women your age may seem to be getting along and coping just fine. They might even tell you, however nicely, that you “get a grip” or “snap out of it” or just relax and have a glass of wine. They can’t sympathize; it’s a lonely place to be!
Unfortunately, doctors can also misunderstand that some women experience menopause differently. Maybe you’ve tried to get help from doctors, but felt like they saw you as ‘a complainer’ or with a weak tolerance for discomfort. Because it’s a normal phase of a woman’s life, some people may expect you to just take it in stride. The fact is, perimenopause is a very individual experience.
Your Experience Is What’s Normal for You
While perimenopause lasts an average of four years, your personal experience may vary. You are a unique individual, and average does not equal normal. For many women, perimenopause takes place for much longer than they expected. For some women, it lasts only two years, or takes as long as seven, 12, or 15 years.
It is possible for women to begin to notice menopause symptoms in their early forties. The average age of actual menopause is 51 years for women in the United States.
Each woman will experience symptoms in her own way. Your own symptoms may change in intensity over time. You may be surprised to know the number of women who experience severe perimenopause or menopause symptoms. Here are three groups of symptoms that may cause concern.
As many as 40-60% of women suffer from insomnia during perimenopause (says Medscape). Insomnia isn’t just a bad night’s rest. This is night after night of difficulty falling asleep, or of getting poor quality sleep. Insomnia often makes it hard for you to function during the day. It can be acute (noticed over days or weeks) or chronic (you’re wondering, after a month or more, if this will ever stop).
Many women notice changes in their emotional outlook, or shifts in their sense of well being during menopause. Unfortunately, the term ‘mood swings’ tends to lump together a wide range of experiences. It doesn’t mean these emotional changes should be a simple walk in the park for you.
Emotional symptoms during perimenopause range from mild crankiness, to feelings of depression or panic that are very intense and very real. Some medical experts estimate that 20% of women will endure depression during menopause (reports Medscape).
Women may be ashamed to admit anxiety, depression or panic attacks during the transition to menopause. High anxiety during perimenopause may be more common than most people imagine. The symptoms may include feelings fearful for no clear reason, feeling tense or irritable, or feeling the heart pounding, racing or palpitating.
One study found, for women with low baseline anxiety before perimenopause, about 13% experienced anxiety symptoms for years, reaching a peak level of high anxiety late in perimenopause. The good news, the study found, was that anxiety levels decreased for these women later in postmenopausal years.
Emotional health is complex. A woman may have good reasons for depression or anxiety in addition to hormonal changes. So it is important to discuss your emotional health with appropriate, qualified healthcare professionals you trust.
Changes in the Ability to Enjoy Sex
With decreasing estrogen levels, the walls of the vagina become thinner, and the skin of the vagina becomes more dry. This is because the number of folds in the lining of the vagina decreases over time with lower estrogen levels.
During perimenopause, the vagina begins to secrete less lubrication. The skin of the vulva, around the opening of the vagina, may become drier and prone to irritation. The vagina can shape too — becoming shorter, narrower, and less elastic. These changes tend to occur especially for women who do not have regular sexual intercourse.
If a woman has not been sexually active during perimenopause, and then wants to have more sex, she may experience pain, even when using familiar lubricants. The discomfort can be so great that it interferes with a woman’s ability to enjoy sex or may dampen her level of sexual desire.
Fortunately, these symptoms usually respond well to low-level estrogen therapy. Vaginal estrogen with bioidentical hormones can help by providing estrogen directly where it’s needed, with minimal impact on the rest of the body.
Hormone Replacement and Bioidentical Hormones
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a reliable approach to treatment for menopausal symptoms. There are many new forms of HRT available: tablets, skin patches, vaginal lubricants, and lotions.
How do you know if HRT is safe for you? That is where talking to an informed doctor comes in. Not all hormones therapies are the same. In recent years, extensive studies show that the chemical makeup of the hormones plays a key role in their safety and effectiveness.
Bioidentical hormones are formulated to match the body’s own chemistry, that so that the body processes them safely, just as it would the natural human hormone. Bioidentical hormone therapy offers health benefits with lower health risks than the earlier generations of synthetic hormones used decades ago.
You can learn more about bioidentical hormone therapy. We’ve addressed many questions patients have in these articles:
- Bioidentical HRT: The Truth About Hormone Therapy for Menopausal Women
- Low Libido in Women – How Can Hormone Therapy Help?
- Women and Hormone Imbalance – Signs that You Are Experiencing Hormone Imbalance and What You Can do About it
We are Here to Listen and to Help You
I welcome your questions about how Bioidentical Hormone Therapy can help you.
If you live in or near Ridgewood, New Jersey, come to the Optimal Wellness Center and learn about our individual approach to your perimenopause or menopause symptoms. Hormone balancing is can help you if you are suffering from sleep disturbances, low libido, or emotional and memory changes with perimenopause. So can a doctor who listens carefully and understands that you have your own set of symptoms.
Contact Dr. Keller at the Optimal Wellness Center in Ridgewood New Jersey, at 201-485-7930 or request an appointment online.