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Early Signs of Menopause (AKA – The Warning Shot from Hell)

Posted Nov 07 2009 10:01pm

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With the discussion of perimenopause and menopause becoming more center stage these days, more and more women are asking questions and seeking answers to what might be for them the early signs of menopause which include but are not limited to the following:

  • Changes in monthly cycle
  • Mood swings, irritability
  • Headaches
  • Hot flashes/flushes
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Depression
  • Aches and pains, cramps
  • Changes in body hair
  • Yeast Infections
  • Increase in PMS
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Loss of interest in love life
  • Water rentention
  • Night sweats
  • Less vaginal lubrication
  • Fluctuations in blood sugar

The average age for the onset of actual menopause is fifty-one years. Menopause, by definition, as many of you may know, is twelve consecutive months with no monthly cycle. So, until that milestone is actually reached, technically, you are not experiencing the early signs of menopause, but rather, peri -menopause.

Perimenopause, on average, lasts anywhere from five to ten years for most women.  Longer for others - like moi.  At fifty-two,  nearly fifty-three, I’m still getting pretty regular cycles.  Cruel isn’t it?  I know.  But, anyway.

Some women -  those fortunate and really blessed ones that, frankly, I’ve come to hate – become fully menopausal in their early forties.  For others, it’s much later and for other’s still, it’s REALLY later. 

So, suffice it to say that like most everything, there is a spectrum as to what is normal for reaching actual menopause and where you fall on that spectrum can be chalked up to a variety of factors, none of which I will be discussing today. Instead, I want to focus on those symptoms  that some might call the early signs of menopause, but which are more accurately called, peri -menopause.

Now that I’m at the other end of this spectrum I can look back to my late thirties and understand a bit more of my erratic  behavior.   Because I had never had PMS to speak of – certainly nothing that I can recall -  I just assumed my overall crappy attitude and periods of  irritability, moodiness and depression were  due to my VERY acrimonious divorce and the stress from going to school while working three jobs and taking care of two toddlers by myself.  That’s enough to cause stress and depression for anybody, right? 

Not to mention, most women do not think much about the idea of menopause, perimenopause or the early onset of anything remotely related to either in their thirties, so it’s easy to miss or mistake the symptoms for something else. Couple this with the fact that I was forty-one when I had my first off the wall phantom period and well, the pieces to the puzzle fall into place rather easily. 

And yes, ladies I know -  I’ve discussed this fact probably ad nauseum already for many of you who are faithful readers. But for the benefit of any new readers, bear with me.  

This phantom period as they are called – because, like  a phantom, they come from nowhere and are totally unexpected and off schedule –  basically reset my menstrual clock.  My time of ovulation also shifted and well, she’s nearly eleven years old now. 

After her birth I was catapulted right into full blown perimenopause.  I remember a pretty bad case of what some might call post-partum depression.  I got just a wee bit nuts shall we say and well, it can’t and shouldn’t be held against me.  I really had no idea what was happening to me. 

Given my age, the birth of a child and the fact that I was beginning perimenopause in my late thirties, it’s really a miracle I didn’t run my car off a cliff or have my name in the headlines for a crime of passion or something.

That first year, post-partum, I saw periods that were so heavy I couldn’t leave the house and went through nearly an entire package of pads in one day.  Then the next month it would be a scant spotting at best.  This went on for quite some time for me.  Approximately five years into it, the symptoms became more severe and dramatically intense. 

Yeah, I know – what could be more severe and intense than bleeding so heavy that you run through an entire package of pads in less than twenty-four hours.  But believe me when I tell you ladies – it got worse.  Mood swings.  Rages.  Depression.  Anxiety.  Insomnia.  Hot flashes.  Night Sweats.  Crashing fatigue.  I had it all and then some. 

Thankfully, I survived it without my name in the headlines and as each month takes me further into my fifties the symptoms are becoming a distant memory.  But, when you are in the middle of full-blown perimenopause it absolutely feels like you are going totally insane and that death would be a welcome relief.  I remember the despair, the despondency and the feelings of total hopelessness –  and I remember them well. 

A reader recently asked me why so many doctors, can’t seem to get a handle on this thing called perimenopause.  Unfortunately, I can’t really answer that question.  Perhaps many of them simply don’t know enough about what is happening and so they throw the proverbial – “oh, you’re just imagining things” at them. Or  if you are able to find one that does  feel some sort of sympathy for your plight, birth control pills and traditional Hormone Replacement Therapy still seem to be the status quo. 

Now, I’m not dissing birth control pills or Hormone Replacement Therapy.  I am simply stating that unfortunately, many doctors  simply do not know what to do with perimenopausal women and so they throw whatever they can at the situation and hope something sticks.

As the discussion continues, however, and more of us actively seek better solutions to our symptoms, I think the medical community will step up with better answers.  Until then, we can find a certain amount of relief, but I don’t know that there is anything that can completely and totally eradicate every symptom we have.

Often times in life, trials and tribulations that we all face become a test of our ability to withstand and endure.  To some measure, this is true of perimenopause as well.  I hate to say that because I know that when you are feeling desperate for relief, the last thing you want to hear is that you have to buck up and get through it. 

But, if you’ve endured any other type hardships in life like divorce, death of a loved one or some other type of life test, then you know what I mean.  Yes, there are certain things you can do to lessen the symptoms or difficulty of the time, but there is also a certain amount of simply moving through it and enduring until you get to the other side.   

In some ways perimenopause is like a birthing experience. During those hours of labor bringing a child into the world, women can feel they are pushed to the end of their capacity to endure.  But, endure we do and at the end of all of that work is the prize - our child.  There is a prize at the end of perimenopause too, ladies and it’s called menopause.

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