As you may be aware, perimenopause is the three- or four-year time period that happens just before menopause. But did you know that perimenopause actually comes in two halves? Here’s the good news: It’s not that hard to tell the two stages of perimenopause apart — and that can help enormously when you go to your doctor for advice on specific symptoms.
In a September 2018 press release, gynecologist Barb DePree, MD, spoke up about the most common signs of perimenopause to help women prepare for “the change of life” itself — aka menopause. According to Dr. DePree, there are a few key ways to identify the onset of perimenopause, which is the beginning of the first half of the whole process.
"Perimenopause begins when ovaries begin to produce less estrogen and progesterone. The telltale sign is when menstrual cycles are closer, further apart, longer, shorter, heavier, or lighter," said DePree. "Women may also notice mood swings, irritability, [and] intermittent night sweats, which can last for years.”
The second half of perimenopause is a bit of a different story. According to DePree, women are more likely to experience “typical” symptoms linked to menopause during this time period. These menopause symptoms include issues such as hot flashes, sleeplessness, bone loss, and weight gain.
This part of perimenopause can also include a variety of other issues, such as painful intercourse, sudden sweating during the day, urinary incontinence, and simply feeling fat. While these are all pretty normal signs of being in perimenopause, that doesn’t mean you need to suffer through them.
"If you are experiencing some of these symptoms or can't make sense of what's happening to your body, it may be due to perimenopause, even if you are in your late 30s," said DePree. "It's important to have a discussion with your health care provider rather than tough it out. There are a lot of effective options available to help you navigate changes during the change."
While it may be easy to tell the stages of perimenopause apart, it’s totally understandable if you have trouble differentiating between the second half of perimenopause and menopause itself. Here’s a good rule of thumb to remember: After you go one full year without any periods, menopause has officially begun for you.