A frequent question I’m asked in my acupuncture clinic is “how do I know when I’m in perimenopause?” It’s a very valid question as menopause is so misunderstood in our society and most of us don’t think about it until we’re wondering if we’re actually in it. This seems ludicrous since half of our population has to experience menopause and the majority of those will experience symptoms.
Menopausal symptoms occur in 80% of women and on average last 4-6 years. They occur due fluctuations in oestrogen and progesterone levles as our ovaries start to wind down as we approach our last menstrual period. Menopause is a natural life event that we all have to transition through. Traditional Chinese Medicine views menopause as a normal event in life and may assist with some menopausal symptoms.
I won’t lie, my interest in learning how to help control the symptoms of menopause really piqued in my mid 40’s as I and my friends started to enter early peri-menopause. It’s is both interesting and confronting to watch the body in which I am so familiar, change. Being in my line of work I am well acquainted with how our hormonal fluctuations affect us, not only in when our periods arrive but also with mood, weight, motivation and sleep to name just a few. But what I once knew about my body is no longer so predictable.
My first indications things were changing were more irregular and shorter cycles. My mid 40’s also coincided with a relationship break-up, negotiating co-parenting a small person and a pandemic. It was difficult to determine what was stress and what was a change in hormones as we know how much stress affects our cycles. But 2 years on I still have irregular cycles but they are longer. I did have some hot flushes which affected my sleep and irregular bleeding but those symptoms are currently well controlled potentially due to supplements I have commenced. My friends and acquaintances have reported experiencing different issues, including insomnia, decreased libido, mental sluggishness, hot flushes, debilitating fatigue and mood changes.
One of the main issues many of us have with menopause is that as individuals we know so little about it. My knowledge before I started working as an acupuncturist was some of my midwife colleagues at work complaining of hot flushes. It still feels quite taboo to talk about even though every single one of us will experience menopause if we are lucky enough live until our 50’s. Some of us will navigate it with hormonal support, some will be plunged into it prematurely due to their ovaries being removed (usually due to cancer), and others of us will go through it naturally.
Perimenopause is the lead-up to our final menstrual period. During this time most of us experience symptoms similar to actual menopause. Menopause is 12 months after your last menstrual period. Perimenopause usually starts in our mid 40’s and on average lasts 4-6 years.
Hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) is the best way of managing the symptoms of menopause and your GP can help you decide the best combination for you if you are interested. Some women though either experience mild to moderate symptoms to want that or already know their bodies don’t work well with artificial hormones and would prefer to try natural therapies instead.