What’s Hormones Got to Do with It?

Often, when I hear women talk about menopause it’s as if they’re just bearing with it the way you do turbulence on an airplane by closing your eyes, holding your breath, and squeezing the arm rests until it passes. The problem? The potential turbulence from perimenopause and menopause can affect months and years of your life—not mere minutes—and it’s unlikely that avoiding it is going to make you feel better. In fact, it’s just going to make you feel worse. For me, living with hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats, or any other symptoms of this life transition was unacceptable. I was not willing simply to muddle through menopause. I wanted to go through it feeling strong and powerful. 

Though my symptoms weren’t severe or debilitating like they are for many, many women, they were having an impact. Hot flashes, which 65 to 75 percent of perimenopausal and menopausal women experience,1 were the most bothersome of my symptoms. I remember one particular day when I was hosting a hospital benefit luncheon at my house. There I was chatting with some lovely women I’d just met and pouring mimosas when all of a sudden I felt my heart beating rapidly in my chest and heat radiating throughout my body. After that, I broke out in a huge sweat and had perspiration dripping off my neck and lip. I didn’t like the feeling that my body was controlling me (rather than the other way around), so I decided to become an expert in my menopause, how it was affecting my body, and how to make myself feel better.

In addition to my online research, I’d go to the bookstore and plant myself in the health section. There, I’d flip through piles and piles of books on menopause and buy the ones that were of interest. Then every night, with Phillip watching TV in the chair beside me and Jay and Jordan doing their homework, I’d study those books.

From all my research, I learned the difference between perimenopause and menopause—a distinction that I’d never made before. Perimenopause is a period of time when your body starts its transition into menopause. Experts say how long it lasts varies from one woman to the next, but the range is two to eight years. Though it usually starts in your forties, some women go through it in their mid- to late thirties. During this time your body’s levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone rise and fall and your periods change in some way, either getting longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, or farther apart. Menopause, on the other hand, begins one year after your periods stop altogether. Both perimenopause and menopause have an endless array of difficult and disruptive symptoms—such as weight gain, insomnia, acne, depression, low libido, forgetfulness, sore breasts, mood swings, anxiety, facial hair, bloating, and vaginal dryness, to name just a few—and various ways to treat them.

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