Symptoms of Perimenopause and Menopause: What's the Difference?
I thought it would be appropriate – and helpful - to follow up on a recent post I did on the difference between perimenopause and menopause and provide a list of the symptoms associated with each. Though the terms are often (and I’m guilty of the same) used interchangeably, they are not the same thing.
Perimenopause is a transitional period a woman goes through where her estrogen and progesterone levels are fluctuating until she becomes fully menopausal. During perimenopause, her ovaries will produce less and less progesterone and estrogen until she no longer has a menstrual cycle. A woman is said to be menopausal once she has gone twelve consecutive months without a menstrual cycle.
Both perimenopause and menopause have very distinct and unique symptoms and health issues associated with them. But, I think it should be said that “symptoms of menopause” is actually a misnomer. Menopause is simply a time of life with no actual symptoms. There are certain health issues and concerns which are associated with menopause, but frankly, this could be said for men as well.
An increased risk of prostate cancer as men age is not a symptom of an aging man. It is simply a health issue that some men face as they age. Likewise with menopause, the “symptoms” of menopause are nothing more than health issues that some women face once they reach actual menopause.
35 Symptoms of Perimenopause
There are approximately 35 symptoms associated with perimenopause, and most women will experience at least a few of them. However, not every woman will experience every symptom, neither will every woman experience them to the same degree.
Most women experience hot flashes and night sweats during perimenopause, but heart palpitations, vertigo and dizziness, irritability, mood swings, and insomnia are also quite common as well. Irregular periods which are shorter, longer, heavier, or even scant can be expected, along with vaginal dryness, loss of libido, crashing fatigue, anxiety, and feelings of dread and doom.
A lot of women experience brain fog and short-term memory issues when they begin going through perimenopause, with difficulty concentrating and mental confusion. Urinary incontinence occurs for a lot of women as well, especially upon sneezing or laughing. Some women complain of itchy, crawly skin, aching, sore joints, and even gastrointestinal distress with gas pain, nausea, and bouts of bloat.
Breast tenderness, weight gain, hair loss or thinning, changes in body odor, gum problems, bad taste in the mouth, breath odor, and for some women tinnitus and ringing in the ears, are all symptoms of perimenopause.
Health Risks & Issues in Menopause
Once a woman reaches actual menopause, her ovaries are no longer producing enough progesterone and estrogen to support monthly menstrual cycles. While most women find menopause to be a wonderful, peaceful time of life, the low estrogen levels common in menopause can put many women at a higher risk for a number of health issues such as osteoporosis, bone and joint degeneration, and chronic depression.
Some women even continue to have hot flashes and night sweats once they reach menopause, which is also attributed to low estrogen, along with continued issues with brain fog and short-term memory loss. Vaginal atrophy, a condition marked by a thinning of vaginal walls, and loss of tone of vaginal tissue, is extremely common for women in menopause, and is also directly connected to low estrogen.
Some women choose hormone therapy to help them manage the symptoms of perimenopause. Others, like myself, choose to continue hormone therapy once they reach actual menopause. Many women also find that adjusting their diet and staying physically active helps them manage symptoms and maintain a good quality of life once they reach actual menopause. Like every health decision, it is a highly personal choice.
Magnolia Miller is a certified healthcare consumer advocate in women's health and a women's freelance health writer and blogger at The Perimenopause Blog.
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