Many women ask me whether they are in peri-menopause, and the answer often surprises them.
By identifying signs and symptoms and reviewing appropriate lab tests, I frequently find they have been in peri-menopause for quite some time – even years!
Those are years when something could have been done to alleviate the growing imbalance that causes peri-menopause symptoms that undermine our quality of life.
Frequently it is the same for men – they have symptoms for years but just write them off as “aging” when they could be doing something about it.
Let’s talk about these early changes so you know when to consider getting professional help. Or, if these life changes are already well behind you, share this information with your family and friends so they know what to watch for and avoid unnecessary suffering.
A primary recommendation for any woman/man considering bio-identical hormones is to begin hormone replacement therapy early, when these life changes are just beginning to happen. This provides the best health outcomes with alleviation of extreme symptoms and the most effective prevention of disease.
So, what are some of the early symptoms of peri-menopause or andropause? Yes, they can be very similar!!
Insomnia is a frequent one, and can begin as early as the post-partum period of a woman’s last pregnancy. Many times, the progesterone level just cannot recover or is pulled down due to high stress, and this can be the beginning of the hormonal imbalance of peri-menopause.
Moodswings can be another, especially in the week to two weeks before the menstrual cycle when it is common to see increased symptoms of PMS, or to have them appear for the first time. Various levels of depression are also common symptoms, and are particularly a sign in men that hormone production has changed.
The menstrual cycle itself will change, often with more cramps, increased amount of flow, more clots, and overall more severe symptoms than you have previously experienced. And if that is already your norm, you may have imbalanced hormones right now and have had this condition for years – not really uncommon at all because many women are low in progesterone during their whole child-bearing years. They are the ones who often have the severe PMS and the debilitating periods. Thankfully, this can be treated and the balance restored to alleviate these symptoms.
Other women may experience peri-menopause with the onset of lighter periods, shortening cycles, or skipping periods – all signs that the hormone levels being produced by our body are changing. These changes contribute to the imbalanced hormonal state that can create fibroids, endometriosis, thickened breast tissue, overgrowth of the uterine lining, and other health changes. These imbalances can go on for years in some women, creating poor health, susceptibility to disease, and loss of vitality.
In men, as testosterone production decreases, estrogen will rise creating a lot of increasing health risks – weight gain, prostate issues, diabetes, heart disease.
Another frequently asked question is: “What age does peri-menopause start?”.
As you can see from the discussion so far, it’s earlier than most of us think. Women now most commonly start peri-menopause in their late 30’s to early 40’s. In this age of high stress and exposure to multiple environmental chemicals that promote endocrine disruption, we see peri-menopause starting earlier than in the days of our mothers.
For men, symptoms of andropause often are present by mid-40s and into the 50’s. The progression of symptoms for them is slower and often these symptoms are just attributed to “aging”.
It is amazing how changes in hormone levels can be subtle but at the same time quite disruptive in our lives. But there are steps that can be taken early on to get these hormones back into balance.
Working with a clinician who is trained in the art and science of bio-identical hormone replacement therapy and has solid clinical experience can be a god-send.
A knowledgeable clinician can order and interpret appropriate lab tests to determine whether your hormone levels are falling. The tests need to be done at a specific time of a woman’s cycle to get the most information. The results are then correlated with symptoms to determine if it is time to begin with some hormone replacement or whether it is possible to use lifestyle practices or herbs and supplements to address the symptoms until it becomes necessary to prescribe hormones because the body can no longer produce them.
It’s never too early to do this testing because it gives us a baseline of where your normal hormone levels are. This baseline will be very helpful to guide us in tailoring future hormone replacement therapy for your particular needs.
If you or someone you know is suffering with severe symptoms of PMS, having continued insomnia, fluctuating moods, or depression, you can do them a favor by suggesting they explore the possibility of bio-identical hormone therapy, whether they are a man or a woman. Beginning in my teens, I experienced heavy menses with profound cramps and PMS that I now know could have been treated. It’s my hope to help as many young women as I can so they can avoid having to live those years with these types of experiences.
Here’s to Hormonal Balance for every stage of life and the resulting effects of better health, well-being, and vitality!
Jane Kennedy, CFNP, MN, MPH