Perimenopause: OR, lost in the middle of nowhere!

This column is dedicated to my wonderful friend Tina.  When were talking recently, I shared with her that I was now blogging about women’s health issues.   She suggested that I write about perimenopause and how it just doesn’t come at a convenient time.  Tina is in her late 30s, has children, a husband, and a career that keeps her very busy.   She thought that her late 30s, when her pregnancies were a thing of the past, would be a time when she didn’t have to worry about period or body changes and that her focus would not be on her physical being every month.  She asked me:  WHAT IS GOING ON?? (This statement is bolded and capitalized on purpose because that is how it sounded when she asked me the question).    

It seems as if Tina is beginning her process to menopause.  Perimenopause is the transition time to menopause.  Most women begin the transition between ages 39 and 51 (Women’s Health:  Contemporary Advances and Trends By Shelton M. Hisley, PhD, RNC, WHNP-BC).   If Tina had been in the room with me when I again said the word perimenopause, she would have begun looking up and shaking her head with a look of disgust on her face.  After all, what woman wants hear the word menopause, in any form, before she even reaches the age of 40??   

To start, I will answer some of the questions that Tina has been thinking about:

What happens during perimenopause?  
During this natural transition, the ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone, which is the reason for the menstrual cycle changes that Tina, and most women, experience.  Hormones also change structurally and functionally, which also can impact a woman physiologically, emotionally and mentally.  NICE (this is very sarcastic)!   

From Tina: I understand the hormone thing, but now what?  
While menopause is a natural transition for women, for some of us, the transition can play havoc with our being.  Periods change and can become irregular, heavier or, for some, lighter.  The frustration is that the regularity we could track on the calendar isn’t so regular any more.  Therefore, our period predictions and behavior that we use to prepare every month, is off kilter.   OK, now I will share:  I was travelling on a train in Europe with my daughter, sharing a 6 seat first class room with 4 strangers when all of a sudden I got cramps and didn’t feel that great.  I went to the ladies room and noticed that the crotch of my khaki pants wasn’t khaki any longer.   While I know this is yuck, can you imagine walking back into the car, sitting down and trying to do subtle charades with my daughter to get her to pull the suitcase off of the rack above and remove my raincoat?  To help, I glanced down,  she saw what my angst was concerning and about fell over.  In any case, I managed the situation with her help and I don’t think anyone else saw.   Believe me when I say I understand what teens go through when they are fearful that they might leak at school.  Perimenopause wasn’t my friend that day.  

Next, my hair is changing or is that my imagination?  I am getting hair in places that I never had it…and, I know that is NOT my imagination:
Lower levels of estrogen impact many body systems.  Some women report the appearance of facial hair, as well as darker, thicker and coarser hair in their genital area, underarms, back, chest and lower abdomen.  Also, some report that their hair on their head is getting thinner, or changing texture or maybe even loosing its curl.  

What I suggested to Tina and will suggest to all reading this is that if you are going through the changes that might suggest perimenopause, schedule a checkup with their health care provider (HCP).  First, you want to make certain that there are no underlying more serious problems causing the symptoms.   Also, your HCP will be able to offer some suggestions or treatment possibilities for what you can do about any irritating or more disturbing symptoms.  

There are a lot of other changes that your body is beginning to experience, as part of perimenopause, that I haven’t addressed in my blog and that are certainly worth knowing about.   The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has produced a pamphlet titled: Midlife Transitions Perimenopause to Menopause that provides information on the topic you may find informative and helpful.  The link is below.

Before I end, I feel I must address one of my pet peeves, false advertising for untested over-the-counter cures.  There are so many pseudo remedies that haven’t gone through rigorous clinical testing to ensure the accuracy of claims that are being made.   In the advertising for those kinds of OTC products, they sometimes state that they can solve all of your perimenopause symptoms.  If you have tried some of those things and they are working, then fine.  However, some of that stuff can be dangerous and can interact with prescription medications you may be taking.  Along with that, they can be expensive and untested for what they claim.  My advice is to be a cautious and a wise consumer.  

I really belive that the next phase of your life could be fabulous.  Your kids are getting older, more independent and may even be out of the house going to school.   You know what you like to do and how you like to experience the world.   You have more time for exercise (walking is free), volunteering (helping others always makes me feel better) and for reading and watching your favorite shows (DVD can save up shows until you have time to watch).  So I hope you are enjoying life and get past all of the perimenopause symptoms with a great attitude and only good health.

Lastly, for those experiencing period changes and whose current products aren’t working as well as you would like, you can visit the Always and Tampax websites for some help with product selections.  There you will find product selectors that can help as you readjust how you manage your period.  Also there are coupons and free sample offers.  I have pasted the links below should you want to visit there.