Is it Perimenopause, Menopause or Something else?

Experiencing changes in your body can be unsettling, especially when they are unexpected, unpredictable, out of our control and the cause is unclear. It can be even harder when changes and symptoms are diverse and insidious in onset or fluctuant in severity and impact.

Menopause and perimenopause heralds changes to our bodies in all of these ways and as such can be an unsettling and discombobulating time. Menopause, marked by the cessation of menstruation, typically occurs between 45-55. Symptoms manifest as a consequence of persistently low levels of sex-hormones: oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These 3 hormones exert powerful regulatory effect throughout the body and so when insufficient the effects can be felt in multiple systems.

“Perimenopause” is the ill-defined phase in the run up to menopause during which ovarian reserve is declining and thus sex-hormone levels are declining and fluctuating. As such we can start to experience progressively worsening or erratically variable changes throughout the body. On average perimenopause lasts 2-8yrs but can start up to 10-15yrs before menopause so can show up from as early as our 30s.

Alongside menstrual changes, there are now over 60 well recognised symptoms the most common of which include: night sweats, hot flushes, mood swings, insomnia, vaginal dryness, change in libido, weight gain, fatigue, brain fog and joint pain. Less well known symptoms include: hair changes, electric-shock sensations, changes to body odour, gum problems, digestive changes such as bloating and wind, headaches or migraine, skin changes & changes to motivation, confidence and self esteem.

If you recognise these changes they may relate to perimenopause or menopause. However, it is important to also consider and rule out some of the other causes such as chronic stress and burnout, other medical conditions such as long-covid, thyroid disorders, anaemia, diabetes, raised blood pressure/cardiovascular disease, sleep apnoea, autoimmune or inflammatory disease or nutritional deficiencies such as B12 (particularly with plant based diet), vitamin D or iron. As such, it is important  to seek proper medical evaluation.

Blood tests can help differentiate between menopause and other health issues. Additionally, discussing your medical history and symptoms in detail with your healthcare provider can provide valuable insights into the underlying cause and appropriate treatments.