Perimenopause: What is happening in my body?
As a naturopathic doctor in Gilbert who specializes in women’s health, I hear a lot of stories from women who are not sure what is happening in their bodies. They are 45-50 years old, are exhausted, experience moodiness, depression, or anxiety, and cannot seem to lose weight. If this sounds like you, there is a good chance you are in perimenopause.
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the time when a woman’s body is transitioning from reproductive years into menopause, with fluctuating levels of the sex hormones of the endocrine system. As a woman ages, her fertility decreases and so does the amount of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone in her body.
As a result, it can feel like you can’t count on your body to do what it used to do and emotions are like a rollercoaster. I have patients who have described it as being like puberty in terms of the moodiness, along with hot flashes. Most women begin perimenopause between the ages of 45 and 50 years old, though that range can vary.
Many patients ask, “What is happening in my body?”
If you are in the age range and are experiencing the following symptoms, I encourage you to seek medical attention. It is important to know the root cause of these symptoms:
- Irregular periods caused by unpredictable ovulation. The time between periods may be shorter or longer. Flow may be light or heavy or you may skip periods. If the time between periods is 60 days or more, you are likely in the later stages of perimenopause.
- Hot flashes and sleep issues are also common during this time. Patients report varying length and intensity of their symptoms. Some have night sweats while others have hot flashes throughout the day. Because of this and fluctuating hormones, sleep becomes unpredictable. Sleeplessness is often due to a lack of progesterone.
- High anxiety and depression are other symptoms my patients have. Often depression and anxiety go hand in hand. Women who already have anxiety may experience it in the extreme. I have patients who cannot leave their homes or do basic things because of anxiety. Another reported that she needed someone nearby in order for her to even take a shower. The inability to perform these simple tasks is frustrating and can lead to more anxiety and depression.
- Moodiness is another sign of perimenopause. You may feel like you did as a teenager in puberty – sad one minute and laughing the next. What is happening in your body is normal but it probably feels like a rollercoaster of emotions.
- Fatigue or exhaustion are also common for women of this age. Many times my patients come to see me when they are more tired than usual. While fatigue can be a sign of many issues, for women 45-50 years old, it is often a sign they are in perimenopause. The fatigue is due to lower hormone levels.
- Inability to lose weight and/or gain muscle mass is common for women in perimenopause. There is a reason medical professionals want you to be exercising, including weight bearing activities. It is because as we age, our BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate slows. BMR is the minimum calories needed for the body to perform its basic functions. If we have more muscle, the rate is higher and we can consume more calories, and lose weight faster. If lower, we gain weight faster and it is harder to lose. If you’ve waited until you are older to begin an exercise program, your BMR is slower. It is not impossible to overcome, but likely more challenging.
While you may experience some of these symptoms, the true way to know if you are in perimenopause is to track your menstrual cycle and test the hormone levels in your blood. That will give us an idea of what is happening. While perimenopause feels strange, it is a natural part of aging. As a naturopathic doctor, it is my desire to help you feel more like yourself.
If you are experiencing symptoms like the ones described in this article, please make an appointment at Atlas Health Medical Group by calling 480-648-1534.