The menopause tends to creep up on you unawares because a lot of hormonal changes are going on in the background from your early 40s. This phase is called the perimenopause and it’s where the fun and games begin.
Some women feel confused by a range of apparently unconnected symptoms that they don’t associate with the menopause because they’re still having periods and assume they’re too young. Yet the perimenopause can last for several years, whereas the menopause itself is technically only a day – that day when it’s been 12 months since your last period.
Progesterone is typically the first hormone to decline, which can lead to a range of psychological and cognitive symptoms. You may start to experience heightened emotions or mood swings; feel tearful or enraged; or suffer from anxiety, low mood or brain fog.
One of the challenges of this transitional phase is that it’s not a predictable, linear process because you’re on a hormonal rollercoaster and your symptoms will be up and down in parallel with your hormones. Periods may initially get heavier and closer together, rather than lighter and further apart, as you might expect, which can be an unpleasant surprise.
As the perimenopause progresses, oestrogen production in the ovaries will start to reduce and new symptoms may arise, such as hot flushes, night sweats, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, itching, weight gain, dry skin, back or joint pain, thinning hair, brittle nails and vaginal dryness. We have oestrogen receptors all over the body and this is why menopause symptoms can be so many and varied. Every woman will have a different experience, but the right diet and lifestyle can make a huge difference to the severity and frequency of your symptoms.