A woman’s body undergoes several changes upon reaching menopause. Menopause is the term used to refer to the end of the menstrual cycle in women. If you do not have any menstrual bleeding for 12 months, then this is an indication that you have reached menopause. Typically women reach the stage of menopause between the ages of 45 to 55 years old. Perimenopause is known as the time period you go through before menopause. During perimenopause, you may start to experience many changes that affect your periods. There are conflicting studies about whether or not perimenopause is actually responsible for affecting your menstrual periods. Let us look at whether perimenopause can affect your periods and what you can do about it?
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is a term used to refer to the time period before menopause. The symptoms of perimenopause can actually last for anywhere between 1 to 10 years. During perimenopause, the levels of hormones estrogen and progesterone remain in a constant flux in the body. The hormonal levels keep on fluctuating from month to month. These shifting levels of hormones are erratic and affect your ovulation and your entire cycle. During this period of perimenopause, you will start to notice irregular periods, changes in bleeding patterns, and even missed periods. Some of the other common symptoms of perimenopause may include:
- Night sweats
- Trouble sleeping
- Hot flashes
- Difficulty in passing urine
- Memory issues
- Dryness in vagina
- Changes in sexual satisfaction or desire
Perimenopause affects your periods in many ways and there are several ways by which you can manage your symptoms.
How Does Perimenopause Affect your Periods?
During perimenopause, it may happen that the levels of estrogen in your body are higher than the levels of progesterone. When this happens, it causes the uterine lining to start building up. When you finally get your periods, this causes heavier than normal bleeding as this uterine lining is shed.
- Perimenopause may also lead to skipped periods. If you skip a period then also the uterine lining builds up and it causes abnormally heavy bleeding.
- Bleeding during periods may be considered to be abnormally heavy if you experience the following:
- You require double protection to soak up the bleeding – maybe resorting to using a tampon and a sanitary pad together
- If you notice that the blood is soaking through one pad or one tampon within the hour and this continues to happen for several hours
- If you have to get up from your sleep to change your tampon or pad
- If your periods last longer than 7 days
Abnormally heavy bleeding is definitely an inconvenience and it disrupts your everyday life. It is not only uncomfortable, but it also prevents you from carrying on your normal activities and exercise schedule. Continued heavy bleeding also increases the risk for other conditions such as anemia and may also cause fatigue.
What can you do about it: Taking ibuprofen, or Advil, during your periods is known to help with menstrual cramps. Advil is also known to reduce your flow by nearly 30%. You can try taking 200 milligrams of Advil every 4 to 6 hours daily for at least 2 to 3 days or until you notice the flow decreasing on its own. It is recommended that you discuss with your doctor if you notice that heavy bleeding and painful cramps continue even after 7 days as you may need to opt for some hormonal approach to treating such abnormally heavy bleeding.
Spotting between Cycles
Perimenopause may cause some spotting between periods. You may notice some spots of blood on your underwear even when your periods have finished. Spotting happens due to the fluctuation in your body’s hormone levels and also due to the buildup of the endometrium. While some women notice spotting before the onset of heir periods, some may notice it after it ends. Many others also experience mid-cycle spotting during the time of ovulation.
If you notice that you are having spotting every 15 days, then it is likely a sign that you are experiencing some hormonal imbalance. It is a good idea to consult your doctor once to discuss your symptoms and rule out any other serious underlying condition causing this spotting.
What can you do about it: It is a good idea to track your periods by keeping a record of the start and end dates and for how many days they last. If you start to spot regularly then you can also consider wearing panty liners that are easily available at all pharmacies. If disposable panty liners are not your thing, then you can also buy reusable panty liners, such as Lunapads. These are made of cloth and can be washed and used over again.
Menstrual Blood becomes dark or Brown in Color
When your periods begin, the color of the menstrual blood is typically bright red. Towards the end of your period, the blood turns to dark brown. Dark colored blood or brown blood is considered to be a sign of old blood leaving the body. When you experience perimenopause, you may see brown spotting or discharge throughout the month. Apart from the color of the blood, you may also notice a change in the texture of this discharge. The discharge may become watery and thin or it may be thick and clumpy.
What can you do about it: If you worried about the changes in your menstrual blood, then you should take an appointment with your doctor. It is important to consult your doctor because even the slightest change in the color of menstrual blood may sometimes also indicate another underlying health condition.
Shorter or Longer Menstrual Cycle
Due to the changes in estrogen levels, your uterine lining may become thinner or thicker. Due to this, bleeding may either become lighter, lasting only for a few days, or you may experience heavy bleeding with periods lasting for more than 7 days. In the early stages of perimenopause, it is common to experience short cycles, while in the later stages of perimenopause, the cycles may become further apart and longer.
In a shorter cycle, you may only have a period that lasts for 2 or 3 days less than your normal cycle. In fact, your whole monthly cycle may only last for just 2 to 3 weeks instead of the normal 4-week cycle. You may, in fact, start feeling like you just finished one period before the next one comes along.
Longer cycles are those that last for over 36 days. These generally become cycles during which you do not ovulate, also known as anovulatory cycles.
What can you do about it: When your cycle becomes shorter, it also becomes unpredictable, causing worries about getting your periods suddenly, out-of-the-blue. To prevent any embarrassing surprises, you can opt for wearing panty liners or period underwear such as THINX. Do not wear a menstrual cup or tampons without having a proper flow as lack of lubrication will make insertion difficult and you may also injure yourself or forget to remove your tampon due to the lack of flow, causing further complications. If you are experiencing a longer cycle, then you should opt for buying a good quality menstrual cup or continue using sanitary pads or tampons to avoid leakage.
Be it a short cycle or a long cycle, perimenopause will overall make your cycles irregular. The closer you get to menopause, the more irregular your cycles will become. This can definitely be frustrating and unsettling for many women.
What can you do about it: Keep in mind that this process will also eventually pass and you will move on to the next phase – that of menopause. You can try to follow these tips till then:
- Invest in some high-quality specialized period underwear to lower the risk of staining your clothes.
- Consider wearing panty liners, either disposable or the reusable kinds, to save yourself from leaks, sudden spotting, and/or unexpected bleeding.
- As much as possible try to keep a track of your periods.
- Maintain detailed notes about your periods especially about the bleeding, discomfort level, pain, and any other symptoms you experience.
Perimenopause might also cause you to miss a period or two. This is again due to the fluctuating levels of hormones in your body. As you get closer to menopause, your cycles may actually start coming at such irregular intervals that you may simply not recall the last time you had a full period. Once you end up missing 12 consecutive periods, then you know that you have reached the stage of menopause. However, even if your cycles keep happening, no matter how delayed they are, you should keep in mind that you are still ovulating and you could still become pregnant.
What can you do about it: Missed cycles every now and then are not a cause for concern. However, if you realize that you have missed a couple of consecutive cycles, then make sure you take a pregnancy test to rule out pregnancy. Once pregnancy ruled out, you can rest assured that these symptoms are related to perimenopause itself. In case if you are unsure about what you are experiencing, then consulting your doctor would be the best recommendation.
Once you cross the age of 45, perimenopause may happen at any time. Irregular bleeding, missed periods, longer or shorter cycles, all these symptoms generally should not be a cause for concern. However, in some cases, these symptoms may be indicative of a more serious health condition and warrants a checkup with a doctor. You should immediately consult your doctor if you experience the following symptoms:
- If you start experiencing abnormally heavy bleeding requiring you to change your tampon or pad every hour
- If you have bleeding that lasts for longer than 7 days
- If you have bleeding that happens at frequent intervals as compared to a regular bleeding pattern of once in 3 to 4 weeks.