What is the perimenopause?

Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP
25 August 2020
Next review due August 2023

Often when people talk about ‘going through the menopause’ they’re actually talking about the perimenopause. The perimenopause is when your hormone levels start to change, but before your periods stop for good. It can cause a wide range of symptoms, both physically and mentally. Here I’ll talk about what the perimenopause is, ways to cope with it and how to look after your body as it changes.

What triggers the perimenopause?

The perimenopause is a natural stage of life that occurs as you age. In most people it will happen naturally between the ages of 45 and 60, and last for a few months to several years. Even a decade or more. During the perimenopause, your hormone levels change and your ovaries start to produce fewer eggs. Once you haven’t had a period for 12 months or more, you’ve officially reached the menopause.

Some people start experiencing the perimenopause before they are 40. This can be as a result of medical treatments, such as surgery to remove the ovaries, but sometimes there’s no cause. If you think you’re experiencing the perimenopause before you’re 40 then you must speak to your doctor.

What are the signs of the perimenopause?

The symptoms of the perimenopause are caused by the hormonal changes happening in your body. Some people won’t have any symptoms, but most will. For some people symptoms can be very severe and affect their daily lives. Everybody’s experience will vary, but physical symptoms commonly include:

There are also other symptoms of the perimenopause that can affect your feelings and mental health. These include:

  • feeling depressed
  • experiencing mood swings
  • problems with memory and concentration – sometimes called “brain fog”
  • a loss of interest in sex

Managing symptoms of the perimenopause

Just because the perimenopause is a natural process, it doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to cope with. If you’re experiencing symptoms, there are some things that you can do that may help.

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine if they seem to trigger your hot flushes, or if you’re having trouble sleeping.
  • Use moisturisers and lubricants to help with vaginal dryness.
  • If you smoke, try to give up as smoking can increase hot flushes.
  • Do things that reduce your stress, such as practising yoga and mindfulness.
  • Try to get enough sleep.
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet and take part in regular exercise to help manage your weight and give you more energy.

There are also treatments that your doctor can prescribe if you need some support to improve your quality of life. These include:

  • hormones, also known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • medicines to ease specific symptoms
  • help with your mental health, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

You don’t need to wait for your periods to stop before speaking to your doctor.

Can I still get pregnant?

Pregnancy is still possible if you’re experiencing the perimenopause. However, it’s much less likely because you’re not ovulating as frequently.

If you don’t want to become pregnant, you should continue using contraception until your doctor says it’s safe to stop. The right contraceptive for you depends on your age, symptoms and needs, so talk to your doctor about your options.

Preparing for the menopause

Experiencing the perimenopause is a signal that your body is changing. After the menopause you’re more likely to develop heart disease and osteoporosis than you were before. The good news is that there are some things you can do to help support your health.

  • Eat a heart healthy diet, with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, plenty of fibre, and healthy fats from fish, nuts and seeds.
  • Include two to three portions of calcium-rich foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt in your daily diet to help support your bones.
  • Consider taking a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D to help support your bone health.
  • Do some moderate exercise for half an hour, five days a week, including strength exercises on two days a week or more.

If you’re struggling with menopause symptoms, or want to support someone who is, we’re here to help. There’s lots of information, expert advice and signposting on the menopause pages within our Women’s Health Hub, and you don’t need to be a Bupa customer to access any of it.

Samantha Wild
Dr Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP

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    • FSRH Guideline: Contraception for women aged over 40 years. Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare., updated September 2019
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