Premenopause, often referred to as perimenopause, is the phase in a woman’s life just before the onset of menopause, which is when a female’s menstrual cycle permanently ceases. The average age for a woman to begin experiencing premenopausal symptoms is 45, but women as young as 25 and as old as 70 can also exhibit signs of premenopause. The length of premenopause varies from woman to woman, but typically lasts from one to six years.
During premenopause, a woman’s hormone production begins fluctuating and declining, which can cause a wide variety of symptoms. A majority of premenopausal women experience changes in their menstrual cycle. As a woman’s estrogen levels begin to decline, the menstrual cycle may shorten, causing more frequent periods. However, some women begin to have longer cycles and less frequent periods. Some women even skip periods. Despite these menstrual changes, a woman is not considered truly menopausal until she has had no period for twelve consecutive months.
In addition to menstrual cycle changes, the drop in estrogen levels during premenopause can cause a host of other physical symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, headaches, vaginal dryness, breast tenderness, and sleep problems. Premenopause can also trigger a variety of emotional changes, including anxiety, irritability, depression, and a sudden inability to handle stress.
Many physicians feel that premenopause is a good time for females to begin artificial hormone therapy, because the supplements will replace the declining internal supply instead of creating an excess. Some physicians prescribe medications such as Zoloft and Prozac for controlling the emotional changes.
Other clinicians advise more natural ways of dealing with premenopause. A common suggestion is to increase the consumption of calcium rich foods such as milk, cheese, and green, leafy vegetables. Calcium is believed to protect a woman’s body from osteoporosis, emotional swings, and heart disease. Eating a proper diet can also help with the aches and pains associated with premenopause.
A female who feels she is going through premenopause should ask her doctor about starting an exercise program. Regular physical activity is thought to help maintain bone mass, strengthen the cardiovascular system, and help a woman sleep.
Western cultures tend to view premenopause and menopause itself as inevitable, sad hallmarks of aging. This is very unfortunate, because this belief only contributes to the emotional stress of a woman going through this phase of life. Strong, self-confident women who are able to maintain their positive attitudes toward aging and life in general tend to have far less complications during premenopause.