“Perimenopause” refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years. Women start perimenopause at different ages. You may notice signs of progression toward menopause, such as menstrual irregularity, in your 40s. But some women notice changes as early as their mid-30s, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Once you've gone through 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, you've officially reached menopause, and the perimenopause period is over.
Your estrogen level rises and falls unevenly during perimenopause. Your menstrual cycles may lengthen or shorten, and you may begin having menstrual cycles in which your ovaries don't release an egg (ovulate). You may also experience menopause-like symptoms, such as hot flashes, sleep problems and vaginal dryness. Treatments are available to help ease these symptoms.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you may experience some or all of the following symptoms during the perimenopause transition:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes and sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Vaginal and bladder problems
- Decreasing fertility
- Changes in sexual function
- Loss of bone
- Changing cholesterol levels
Some women seek medical help for perimenopausal symptoms. Others either tolerate the changes or simply don't experience symptoms severe enough to need attention. Because symptoms may be subtle and appear gradually, you may not realize at first that they're all connected to the same thing — rising and falling levels of estrogen and progesterone, another key female hormone.
If you have symptoms that interfere with your life or well-being, such as hot flashes, mood swings or changes in sexual function that concern you, talk with your doctor.