As you may already have experienced, starting the menopause is not a sudden change – you don't wake up one day and find you've entered menopause overnight. Just like puberty, (another stage of life when changing hormone levels affect us in all kinds of ways) menopause takes many years.
Perimenopause (peri coming from the greek meaning “around” or “surrounding”, so literally “around menopause”) is when the levels of hormones that control our periods – oestrogen and progesterone begin to fall and we may start to notice some changes in our bodies, our mood and our overall health – periods may be lighter, more spaced out or they may even be heavier, our thoughts may be a little foggier, we may have difficulty sleeping and feel more anxious. These symptoms are essentially the precursor to the menopause and usually starts in our forties, although it may start earlier than this.
The duration of the perimenopause differs from person to person. The average length of time is approximately 4 years, but for some women it may only last a few months, whilst others will experience these symptoms for up to ten years. The symptoms are often very similar to menopause, including anxiety and depression (and general mood changes), brain fog, fatigue and even hot flashes and tender breasts. Many of these symptoms may also apply to other health conditions, but when we're in our thirties and early forties it may not occur to us to link them to perimenopause. That's what makes these symptoms so concerning when we experience them for the first time. Some women worry that their brain fog is the onset of dementia, or that painful intercourse and irregular periods could be a sign of cancer, when often these are just common symptoms of perimenopause. If you are experiencing more than 60 days between periods (if you had a regular 28 day cycle previously), Perimenopause may be nearing its end and is considered to be over once you have had a full year without periods, after which you are considered to be in the menopause.
In today’s world, where we can talk more openly about our mental health, we must be careful that we're not assuming we have certain health conditions such as depression or anxiety when the symptoms we are experiencing are in fact a symptom of perimenopause. But it can be hard to know whether any low mood you experience is due to hormonal changes, life circumstances or a specific source of stress – the pandemic has taught us that!
Working out whether you're experiencing depression, a chronic health condition or perimenopause isn't easy and requires the help of your GP and other specialists. Blood tests for hormone levels can be a useful diagnostic tool, but your GP will often diagnose perimenopause on the basis of your symptoms. Do feel empowered to ask for a second opinion if you're not happy with their diagnosis – it's your body after all.
We've seen many real life examples and heard stories of friends, and friends-of-friends who have been really worried about their symptoms being cancer or Alzheimer's only to find out that they're actually entering perimenopause. Whilst this may be a relief, it can be scary too! Ensuring that you understand the process of perimenopause and menopause can go a long way to alleviating any fears and help you take positive action to help yourself. As well as the knowledge contained in our blogs and around our website, talking to like-minded people can help too, which is why we have set up our forum.
Once we understand what is happening to our body, we can start to accept it and develop coping strategies. Feeling your best self during the perimenopause requires a holistic approach, including exercise, talking therapies (which could be formal counselling or just venting to a good friend), hormone therapy and good nutrition, which is why we developed The MenoShake™. The MenoShake™ combines sustainable plant proteins, marine collagen, vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements proven to help ease some of the common symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, in a convenient, all-in-one, delicious easy-to-drink form. At a time of life when we should be comfortable in our own skin, enjoying life and feeling our best self, The MenoShake™ has been designed to help support, balance, energise and refocus you, making dealing with perimenopause just that little bit easier.