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What Is Perimenopause?

Perimenopause is the name given to the transitional period before menopause, in which women may experience a number of symptoms. The perimenopause phase may start as early as in the 30s or as late as the woman’s 40s. Each woman’s experience of this period of hormonal change may be different.

What Causes Perimenopause?

Menopause is the phase in a woman’s reproductive life when the ovaries stop producing estrogen and periods cease. However, the drop in estrogen levels can begin several years before menopause, and this drop in hormone levels may accelerate as the age of menopause approaches. Perimenopause can last for just a few days or can produce symptoms for as long as four years. Some women may have no discernible perimenopause phase.

Common Symptoms of Perimenopause
Certain symptoms are known to signal the start of perimenopause:

  • Increased premenstrual symptoms
  • Hot flashes
  • Breast tenderness
  • Irregular periods
  • Increased fatigue
  • Discomfort during sex
  • Urinary leaking when sneezing or coughing
  • Sleep problems
  • Noticeable mood swings

Treatments to Relieve Perimenopause Symptoms

A number of treatments are available to relieve the discomfort from perimenopause symptoms, and may include:

  • Hormone therapy – Replacing the hormones that begin to decrease during the perimenopause phase can help to relieve vaginal dryness, hot flashes and night sweats. Estrogen may be prescribed in a number of forms, such as pills, skin patches or topical creams.
  • Vaginal creams – Vaginal dryness, painful intercourse and urinary problems associated with perimenopause can be helped with the use of vaginal creams that contain a small amount of estrogen.
  • Antidepressants – Some women may benefit from taking a type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which has been found to be helpful in controlling hot flashes and mood problems.
  • Gabapentin – This anti-seizure medication has been found to be helpful in reducing the severity of hot flashes in women who cannot take estrogen drugs.

Lifestyle Changes to Relieve Symptoms

Women can also get relief from perimenopause symptoms by reducing their weight, exercising regularly, decreasing alcohol consumption, stopping smoking and getting more sleep. A number of herbal supplements, such as black cohosh or dong quai, are used to help perimenopausal symptoms, but their effects may be variable. If these do not reduce your symptoms, talk to your doctor about additional help for these issues.

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