One of the most disconcerting things about the onset of menopause is not knowing what's happening to you.
As with so many things in life, confirming that you've started menopause can be a slightly nebulous subject, which is probably why symptoms (particularly amongst those going through perimenopause or starting menopause comparatively early), are often dismissed as something else. For anyone experiencing something like severe memory issues and brain fog however, that can be extremely anxiety making.
For example, we have spoken to more than one woman in their late thirties or early forties, who were concerned they were developing early onset dementia. One, was even recommended she go for testing because her father had Alzheimers in old age. While the testing would certainly do no harm, not exploring the possibility of menopause (which it later turned out to be), led to enormous additional strain.
All of this is to say that we need to become better at understanding and recognising the early signs of menopause and supporting women as they start this new phase of life.
So, how do you know you have started menopause?
Early signs of menopause
The early signs of menopause (or perimenopause) are not dissimilar to those that develop over the course of time, it's just that they tend to be less severe. While there are 34 recognised symptoms of menopause in total, the first thing many women notice are changes in their menstrual flow and in the length of their cycle. Other symptoms which can start to manifest in perimenopause include the following:
- Mood changes
- Changes in sexual desire
- Trouble concentrating
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Trouble with sleep
- Joint and muscle aches
- Heavy sweating
- Having to pee often
- PMS-like symptoms
When does perimenopause occur?
For most women menopause happens between the ages of 45 and 55. Perimenopause is a three-to-five-year period before menopause, and it tends to happen in your late fourties, although for some women it starts as early as 35 and can last for as long as 10 years.
Why does perimenopause occur?
Perimenopause is the time when your body's fertility levels naturally begin to wind down. Part of that process is the gradual reduction of certain hormones, notably progesterone and oestrogen. As a byproduct of that process, other chemical production levels within the body also slow down or stop - for example, the production of collagen. It's this drop in hormone levels which results in a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms ranging from hot flashes to headaches. While we tend to think of menopause as purely being about coming to the end of our ability to have children, in reality it has far broader consequences which mark a new phase of life.
How is perimenopause diagnosed?
Typically if you go to the doctor for perimenopausal symptoms, your doctor will make an assessment based on circumstantial evidence (age, medical history, physical examination), as well as the symptoms that you're reporting. In some cases, they may also run blood tests to measure your hormone levels, but as these continue to fluctuate during perimenopause, they are not necessarily conclusive. Broadly speaking - it's a bit of a process of elimination.
How is perimenopause treated?
How we treat perimenopause depends entirely on the individual and how they're experiencing hormonal changes. For some women, symptoms are very mild and they don't feel the need to make any changes. For others it might be a case of addressing specific issues or taking more proactive steps.
The medical treatments that are available, and which you can discuss with your doctor, are HRT, and some women are also offered antidepressants to help stabilise moods.
From a holistic standpoint, you can also look at adjusting diet, exercise and supplements to support the body at this time. For example, you may introduce plant hormones into your diet (we also recommend introducing them to your skincare with our MPlus collection). Many women also find that reducing alcohol and caffeine intake helps to minimise symptoms like hot flashes.
For a lot of women however, the first port of call in terms of support is simply knowing what's happening - that they're not going mad, they're not going through anything abnormal, and perhaps most importantly, they are not isolated or alone in their experiences.