How to Deal with Perimenopause

Four Parts:Recognizing SymptomsTreating PerimenopauseTalking to a DoctorFinding Community Support

Long before their progesterone and estrogen levels drop, signaling the onset of menopause, most women experience irregular periods, hot flashes, and mood swings. Welcome to perimenopause! The word literally means “around menopause,” a time period in a woman’s life when her body begins transitioning toward menopause.[1] This transition can last between four and ten years, and officially ends 12 months after the last period.[2] Menopause begins between the ages of 40 to 58, the average age being 51.[3] Although many women suffer during this time, some do not even notice the changes in their body. Everyone is different, and fortunately, if needed, there are steps you can take to control the symptoms.

Part 1
Recognizing Symptoms

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    Notice irregularity in your periods. Perimenopause doesn’t just bring on a greater lapse of time between periods—it can also make some periods lighter, others heavier, and even decrease the time between them. You are likely in the early stages of perimenopause if the length of your cycle is changed by about seven days.[4]
    • If your periods have two months between them, this is an indication you are in the late stages of perimenopause, just before menopause.[5]
    • Menopause is complete when you haven’t had a period for 12 months.[6]
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    Expect hot flashes. You may begin to notice the occurrence of hot flashes, or a sudden sensation of heat over your body that triggers sweating, increased heart rate, and skin redness, lasting one to five minutes.[7] This is a normal part of the hormone changes leading up to menopause.
    • Hot flashes may end with a cold chill.[8]
    • The intensity varies as much as the length, and can contribute to sleep discomfort.[9]
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    Anticipate mood swings. Also accompanying the changes in estrogen and progesterone hormone levels during perimenopause are mood swings, although these can also be due to lack of sleep caused by hot flashes.[10] Women can become irritable or depressed.
    • Mood swings can also be caused by or mid-life stressors like children leaving home, aging parents, and changes within marriage. More rarely, they can be caused by thyroid issues.[11]
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    Expect pain during intercourse. Because estrogen levels drop during perimenopause, the lining of your vaginal tissues thin, leading to loss of lubrication.[12] This can cause pain during sex.
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    Watch for increased risk of urinary and vaginal infections. The same thinning of vaginal tissues that causes pain during intercourse can increase risk of vaginal infections, and lead to urinary tract infections.[13]
    • Loss of muscle tone in the vaginal area can also contribute to loss of bladder control.[14]
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    Expect night sweats. Night sweats occur during perimenopause, but they are nothing to be alarmed about. They are the nighttime version of hot flashes. Loss of sleep due to a hot flash can greatly contribute to the irritability a woman displays during perimenopause.[15]
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    Notice an increase in anxiety. Although the hormonal change of perimenopause may not directly cause an increase of anxiety, there are so many things occurring around a woman in perimenopause that anxiety can be a normal part of the process.[16]
    • Hot flashes and night sweats cause sleep loss, leading to an increase in stress and a lowered ability to cope with it.[17]
    • A vicious cycle of stress-symptoms-anxiety can be enacted during perimenopause, where your stress level causes your perimenopause symptoms to be worse, leading to anxiety.[18]
    • You’re also at a time in life where a lot of changes occur, such as children leaving home and parents aging, increasing your anxiety levels.
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    Anticipate an increase in headaches. Some women experience an increase of headaches or migraines at the onset of perimenopause.[19] If you notice more headaches than usual, or an increase in their intensity partnered with other perimenopause symptoms, you may be able to confirm that you are indeed experiencing perimenopause. Some of these symptoms can continue for several years after menopause.

Part 2
Treating Perimenopause

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    Adjust your mindset. Once you start to suspect that you are experiencing perimenopause, it’s time to confirm it with a doctor and get mentally prepared for changes in your body. If these symptoms don’t catch you unawares, you may be able to minimize your level of irritability simply by knowing what to expect and having remedies on hand to quickly treat them.
    • Once you start to suspect you have perimenopause, you can start putting into place things you’ll need from the steps below.
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    Use lubricant. Since the vaginal walls are thinning as your hormones progressively change, you also may experience vaginal dryness because the vagina produces less moisture. Lubricants with a water base help when you start to feel discomfort.[20]
    • You may also find that vaginal moisturizers, which are inserted internally, can help reduce changes in your pH, preventing bacterial infections.[21]
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    Sleep in cool clothing. While you may not have night sweats on a regular basis at the beginning of perimenopause, it is prudent to start sleeping in cool clothing to help with nighttime discomfort.
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    Avoid headache triggers. If you’re experiencing perimenopause and you notice an increase in headaches, the first thing to do is avoid headache triggers such as bright lights, loud sounds, and doing things that cause eye strain (like reading in dim light).
    • Food triggers should also be avoided, like alcohol, chocolate, and cheese.[22]
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    Maintain good nutrition. Proper nutrition can help you regulate mood swings, along with good sleep and exercise.[23] Make sure you are eating a balanced diet, and if you aren’t sure how balanced it is or if there are certain foods you should avoid or eat more of, make an appointment with a nutritionist.
    • Taking vitamin supplements can also contribute to good nutrition. St. John’s wort, for example, has been known to reduce symptoms of mild depression and mood disorders.[24]
    • Because bone density loss is a byproduct of perimenopause, calcium and Vitamin D supplements may help reduce the impact this has on the body.[25]
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    Get regular exercise. Studies show that regular exercise can reduce frequency of migraines.[26] It can also help you sleep better at night and reduce your mood swings.[27]
    • Try to work out at least three days a week for maximum benefits.
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    Seek medical help. You should always meet with your doctor once you start to recognize symptoms of perimenopause. Your doctor can recommend both at-home remedies and medication therapies to make the transition to menopause easier.
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    Look into herbal supplementation. There are many options for herbal alternatives to chemical estrogen therapy, but you should never start a self-prescribed hormone regimen on your own — speak with your doctor to make sure any supplements you use don't interact with other medications you may be taking or aggravate any existing conditions. One such example is Kava, an herb said to help with perimenopause anxiety.[28]
    • Herbal remedies are not regulated as well as prescription treatments, so always consult your doctor about the herbs you intend to try.[29] Just because they are herbal or "natural" doesn’t mean they don’t have side effects or complications when mixed with other things.

Part 3
Talking to a Doctor

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    Bring along questions for the doctor. You should not waste a trip to the doctor about your perimenopause by forgetting to ask key questions. Ask about treatments available to you, natural alternatives to these treatments, what you can expect, when to see the doctor again, what you should be concerned about, and so on.[30]
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    Ask about hormone therapy. If symptoms become problematic during perimenopause or menopause, you may want to start hormone therapy. Your doctor may prescribe a regimen of estrogen treatments — alone or in combination with progesterone — to help your body regulate hormones as it transitions to menopause.
    • Estrogen therapy can come in many different forms, such as cream, gel, a skin patch, and a pill.[31]
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    Ask about vaginal estrogen. If your symptoms of vaginal dryness are particularly severe, you may want to ask your doctor about vaginal estrogen. This tablet, ring, or cream can be inserted directly into the vagina where it releases a small amount of estrogen to accommodate for problems with dryness, pain during sex, and urinary problems.[32]
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    Inquire about antidepressants. Antidepressants are helpful not only for actual depression during perimenopause, but can reduce the occurrence of hot flashes.[33] This is a helpful alternative for women who can’t take estrogen supplements.
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    Find out about Neurontin. Another medication alternative to estrogen therapy is the drug Neurontin, also known as Gabapentin. It may be a good second line treatment to help with hot flashes.[34]

Part 4
Finding Community Support

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    Tell your family. To help those around you adjust to the slew of symptoms you may start to experience for the next few years, explain to your immediate family and other supportive family members about your perimenopause. This will help them understand when you are irritable or can’t do as many activities because of headaches and hot flashes.
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    Build a support system. If you have a group of friends you rely on for emotional support, these are the perfect people to tell about your perimenopause journey. They can support your decisions on symptom treatment, be available when you need to talk about your issues, and provide general feedback so that you don’t feel alone.
    • If you don’t have a group of friends like this, just one or two supportive people will still provide you with the emotional support you need to keep from becoming overwhelmed.
    • If you simply have no one to rely on, joining a perimenopause or menopause support group at a local community gathering place (community center, YMCA, senior center, etc.) or church is helpful for reducing the impact your symptoms have on your mental state.
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    Find women to talk to. Finding women who have gone through perimenopause is extremely helpful not only so that you don’t feel alone, but for getting advice about how to navigate this stage of life with minimal discomfort.[35]


  • If non-prescription progesterone creams seem insufficient to handle the symptoms, contact your physician for further management. Women with migraines, for example, frequently need higher strengths of progesterone than are available without prescription.
  • Perimenopause is like PMS on steroids; many of the tips on how to get through PMS can help with perimenopause as well.


  • All information provided in this article is provided for educational, referential and informational purposes only.
  • Always ask a doctor before following advice given to you by a friend or found on the internet.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Women’s Health