It can have as many 30 symptoms and be so disruptive that one in 10 women consider leaving their careers because of it. Yet many women are unsure of what the perimenopause is until they’re right in the middle of it.
For those in the dark, perimenopause is the term used when you’re transitioning towards the menopause – although we often conflate the two terms, medically you only reach ‘menopause’ when you’ve gone a year without periods.
Perimenopause can begin in your thirties – way earlier than many of us realise – and last for up to a decade before you hit menopause for real.
During the perimenopause, you might experience symptoms, such as hot flushes, anxiety and irritability, but still have periods, either every month or irregularly. We learn all this and more in the latest episode of Am I Making You Uncomfortable?, our podcast on women’s health, bodies and private lives.
We’re joined on the podcast by Dr Nighat Arif, who specialises in women’s health, and author and researcher Tillie Harris, who shares her experience of going through the perimenopause as a new parent in her late thirties.
We also hear about the tough symptoms of perimenopause from many of our listeners, but also how empowering it can feel to come out the other side. Here are five things women want you to know about perimenopause below and listen to the episode for the full story.
It’s more than hot flushes
It took several years – and several trips to the doctors – before Elizabeth Carr-Ellis, 53, was finally diagnosed as peri-menopausal and prescribed HRT. She was so frustrated by the experience, she co-founded the group Pausitivity to raise awareness of perimenopause symptoms and campaigned to get posters about menopause into doctor’s surgeries.
“I wish I’d know everything about perimenopause, because it’s had such a big impact on my life in ways that I never knew it could,” says Carr-Ellis, originally from Newcastle, now based in Canterbury.
“From a receding hairline, which I was told was male pattern baldness, to palpitations that meant I ended up in A&E one night after work. Then, paranoia and anxiety, and eventually wondering why I couldn’t just jump in a river and escape everything. I never knew menopause could be so bad.”
The anxiety can be debilitating
Jo Moseley, 54, from Yorkshire, wants women to know that although perimenopause is tough, it does get better. However, she wishes she’d had advance warning about how perimenopause can increase anxiety.
“I’ve always been a bit of a worrier, but this was off the scale. I would worry about what might happen, what had happened, what could happen. I was just paralysed by it sometimes, at work and in my family life,” she says.
“It crushed my self-belief and self-confidence. I would be crying in supermarkets and I would be anxious about things that would never, ever happen. It would keep me up at night until three or four o’clock in the morning.”
Support isn’t always inclusive
Nina Kuypers, 47, from Merseyside, has recently launched a peer support group for peri-menopausal Black women on Facebook and Twitter, because the little information out there on perimenopause often focusses on white women.
“As a black woman I’ve personally found that we are not represented enough. I want menopause information to be more diverse, as well as evidence-based, easier to understand and relatable,” she says.
“One menopause does not fit all, there needs to be a connection, and then maybe more Black women, and women in general, would be prepared to speak more openly about the issue of menopause. It’s not about equality, but equity, and these are distinctly different.”
Perimenopause is often misdiagnosed
Katie Taylor, 51, from London, says she experienced four years of perimenopause symptoms that were misdiagnosed as depression.
“I didn’t have hot flushes and I was still having periods,” says Taylor, who’s founder of the Latte Lounge digital community group. “But the symptoms of low mood, dry skin, heart palpitations, brain fog, anxiety, low self-esteem and weight gain were passed off by many of my doctors as depression.”
It was only after her father, who’s a breast cancer specialist, suggested that it might be hormonal that she visited a specialist gynaecologist and was diagnosed as being in the perimenopause. She was offered HRT for the first time and says it made a huge difference.
“Ever since then, I’m like a new woman, I’ve got my life back and I feel absolutely fantastic,” she says.
Reaching menopause can be empowering
Rachel Lankester, 54, originally from Birmingham, reached the menopause at 41. She’s since set up a podcast and members club, Magnificent Midlife, to help women embrace life post-menopause.
“I wish I’d known it wasn’t a time of loss, as we are taught to believe. Rather, it’s an opportunity for us to take stock and work out what’s next,” says Lankester.
“It’s not the time to start fighting our wombs, but rather to go with the flow – or lack of it,” she adds. “For me, perimenopause was a gift, even though it meant my period stopped 10 years earlier than normal, the end of my fertility has become the most fertile time of my life, and being off the oestrogen roller coaster is brilliant.”