What are the first signs of perimenopause? Every year, around 13 million women in the UK experience perimenopause, however, it is still considered ageing and unattractive to discuss the subject openly.

There is slowly a shift in the right direction, but we still need to break the traditional taboo subject and realise that these hormonal changes are both completely natural and normal, and in fact, perimenopause can be a very positive experience too. Understanding your body and its hormones can play dividends. So, what exactly is perimenopause, and how do you know if you’re experiencing symptoms? We asked Dr Sam Brown, GP, and menopause specialist at The Bronte Clinic to tell us more…

What is the perimenopause?

The time leading up to menopause is called the perimenopause, aka menopause’s younger sister!  Which many of us blindly and begrudgingly enter in our 40s’, but sometimes as early as our late 30’s. The average length of perimenopause is 4 years however for some, this stage can last a few months or even for as long as 10 years! So, it’s very individual. Contrary to belief, during the perimenopause women still have periods and can still get pregnant. Within the last 1-2 years of this transition, the drop in oestrogen speeds up and many women will experience menopause symptoms.

What are the first signs of perimenopause? 

It’s not all hot flushes!  Typically, the perimenopause can begin without even being aware of it. Indeed, hot flushes are very common with 70-80% of women experiencing them. They can disrupt sleep and cause a lot of distress too. Mood changes are also very common and often you get fluctuation in anxiety levels too.  So, you might be feeling perfectly fine one day and then have anxiety attacks, panic, low mood, or tearfulness the following day (sounds like a regular day to us!) Vaginal dryness and loss of libido are also common and often trigger confidence issues that may not have been present before. Tiredness and insomnia, joint pain and muscle tension and more peculiar symptoms such as a burning mouth and dry eyes are all very common. 

How can you manage them?

This is a time of change and one that you can’t biologically control, so self-care is more vital than ever. Adapt your lifestyle so you’re not juggling as much and taking time out for yourself. If you don’t already, try introducing strength exercises into your workouts as this is a time in your life when you may begin to lose muscle mass. Supplements such as calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and eating healthily and reducing alcohol (just when we need it the most!) can all help. And talk to your friends. The power of speech will make you feel supported and realise that all your female buddies will experience this journey themselves at some point in their lives or maybe already have. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your friends, then seek outside help. Try CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which can teach you to recognise mood changes and manage hot flashes. It will also change your mindset to view ageing as a positive thing!

And there’s always HRT (hormone replacement therapy) though over the years it has unfairly had a bad rep. For most women, the benefits will outweigh the risks, but it is important to discuss this with your doctor. Nowadays, body-identical hormones are used which are identical to the hormones we naturally produce, so it’s safer than ever, but still, a very personal decision whether to take it or not. 

Is there anything younger women can do to minimise the effect later?

Get your hormones in check. The earlier you’re on the case, the easier the transition will be. Keep a healthy balanced diet, manage your weight, move more, and work on that pelvic floor. None of this is new, but it will better prepare your body for the changes to come. 

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