For years, you pretty much knew what to expect from your menstrual cycles. But perimenopause can make things unpredictable and lasts an average of four to eight years.
“Some symptoms seem to be the worst in the year before a woman’s final menstrual period; others persist for several years,” says Heidi S. Weaver, MD, an Ob-Gyn at Bingham Memorial Women’s Center. “Recent studies suggest that hot flashes last longer than previously believed—up to and exceeding 10 years for some women.”
But don’t worry. You can reduce symptoms no matter when they hit.
Fight Hot Flashes
The most common symptom of perimenopause, hot flashes, can strike day or night. While episodes may seem random, they can be triggered by high temperatures, hot foods and beverages, alcohol, stress, caffeine and smoking. Keep a diary of triggers and do your best to avoid them.
“However, hot flashes can occur when estrogen levels drop, often around the time of a period,” says Dr. Weaver. “First try to stay cool—both physically and emotionally. Having emotional reactions can trigger hot flashes, as can letting your body get too warm.” Dr. Weaver also suggests wearing layered clothing to allow for flexibility to adjust accordingly.
Over-the-counter remedies may help as will regular meditation, yoga or massage. Once a hot flash starts, try an ice pack or a fan, and practice slow, measured breathing.
Manage Mood Changes
Some women report increased irritability, anxiety and fatigue during perimenopause. Over-the-counter antidotes, including vitamin B6 may offer relief. If mood changes are severe or include feelings of depression, talk to your doctor. Antidepressant medications can be effective and may even help alleviate hot flashes, according to National American Menopause Society.
Stop Sleep Disturbances
Proper sleep becomes increasingly important as we age, but perimenopause can throw a wrench into things. Stick to an established bedtime routine that includes going to bed and waking up at the same times each day. Make sure your room is cool, dark and quiet. Keep a cold pack under your pillow and layer bedding so it can be easily removed if night sweats are a problem.
You may also want to try an over-the-counter sleep aid—take just half a pill if the full dose makes you groggy in the morning—or talk to your doctor about a prescription sleep aid if you’re not getting relief.
Need an Ob-Gyn?
Heidi S. Weaver, MD, is an Ob-Gyn who recently joined the Bingham Memorial Women’s Center. She is always welcoming new patients in Blackfoot. To schedule an appointment with her, please call (208) 782-3900.