Early Menopause Symptoms: What it Looks Like & How to Deal

Menopause – it’s a normal life transition. Yet, when menopause symptoms creep up, it can be confusing and frustrating. You may get moody, have trouble sleeping, or have hot flashes strike out of nowhere. 

Or your period, which used to be steady as a rock, is now all over the map. Navigating menopause early symptoms can be difficult. 

However, knowing what to expect can ease your mind and smooth out the bumps of this journey. This article spells out 20 common signs of menopause, why they happen, and offers tips to support your body through this change. 

What are the 3 Stages of Menopause?

First things first – let’s break down the three stages of menopause:

1. Perimenopause 

perimenopause Symptoms

Perimenopause (which means “around menopause”), refers to the years leading up to menopause. During these years, estrogen gradually declines. This can cause irregular menstrual cycles, among other symptoms. Perimenopause happens in your 40s most often but can occur as early as your mid-30s.

2. Menopause

When 12 months have passed without a menstrual cycle, you’ve graduated to menopause. This marks the end of your reproductive years.

3. Postmenopause

Once someone has gone through menopause, they’re no longer ovulating and considered postmenopausal. During this time, menopause symptoms may become milder or even disappear entirely. 

What is the Earliest Age for Menopause?

Menopause typically happens between ages 45-55, with an average age of 51. However, some women may go through ‘the change’ much earlier. 

Early menopause happens when women reach menopause between the ages of 40-45. Premature menopause, while rare, is when menopause hits before the age of 40.

4 Risk Factors for Early Menopause

Wondering if menopause may pay you an early visit? Here are four risk factors that can make it more likely:

Menopause Symptoms
  1. Smoking: Need another reason to quit? Research shows smokers tend to hit menopause a year or two earlier than non-smokers. 
  1. Family history: Women typically hit menopause around the same time as their mothers. So, if your mom went through ‘the change’ early, there’s a good chance you may too. 
  1. Cancer treatment: According to the National Library of Medicine, radiation of the pelvis area and some types of chemo are linked with early menopause. 
  1. Surgery: Your ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone, which control your menstrual cycle. So if you have your ovaries removed, it causes immediate menopause. 

However, if you have a hysterectomy (aka removal of your uterus), the ovaries can still release estrogen and progesterone. This means you can still get menopause symptoms but may get them a few years earlier.

Menopause Early Symptoms: 20 Signs to Watch For

Perimenopause symptoms creep up as your body adjusts to the dip in estrogen and vary in severity from woman to woman. 

Some women get lucky and experience only mild symptoms, such as changes to their cycle. Other women might deal with hot flashes, mood changes, sleep problems, and vaginal dryness. Every woman’s perimenopause symptoms will be unique.

Menopause Symptoms

Here are 20 possible signs that menopause may be on its way:

  1. Irregular periods: This one’s super obvious, but during perimenopause, you may miss periods. Also, your cycle might shorten or lengthen, and your flow may become heavier or lighten up.
  1. PMS gets worse: During ‘the change,’ hormone levels fluctuate, which may intensify PMS symptoms.
  1. Fatigue: When your estrogen and progesterone drop, it can throw off your thyroid and adrenal hormones. Since these hormones help regulate your cellular energy, you may feel tired more often.
  1. Change in libido: Vaginal dryness, mood changes, and fatigue may make you feel less ‘in the mood.’
  1. Decreased fertility: The less you ovulate, the less chance you’ll conceive. But, if you still have periods, pregnancy is possible – just more difficult. 
  1. Breast tenderness: Hormonal changes can cause breast pain.
  1. Loss of breast fullness: As estrogen decreases, your milk system starts to close shop. This can cause your breast tissue to shrink, become less dense, and fatty.
  1. Vaginal dryness: Estrogen helps your vagina stay lubricated. So when it dips, your vagina may get drier.
  1. Bladder problems: Decreased estrogen may cause you to lose some bladder control. You might notice leaks now and then and need to urinate more frequently.
  1. Chills:  Hormonal changes can throw off your hypothalamus, the part of your brain in charge of temperature regulation.
  1. Hot flashes: Hormone fluctuations may also lead to hot flashes, a sudden feeling of heat often accompanied by a flushed face and sweating.
  2. Night sweats: If hot flashes strike while you’re snoozing, it can lead to night sweats. 
sweating
  1. Sleep problems: Hot flashes at night can often lead to disturbed sleep.
  1. Mood changes: Studies reveal that estrogen levels can impact the “happy hormones” serotonin and dopamine. Since estrogen is up and down during perimenopause, your mood may be too.
  1. Memory problems: Estrogen increases blood flow to the brain and enhances cognitive function. So when it dips, it can cause brain fog and forgetfulness.
  1. Weight gain: Estrogen also helps regulate your metabolism. So when it drops, it may be more challenging to manage your weight.
  1. Dry skin: When estrogen takes a nosedive, collagen production does as well. This can cause your skin to become drier and itchier.
  1. Thinning hair: Both estrogen and progesterone help your hair stay on your head longer and grow faster. So when these hormones decline, your hair may thin out and grow slower. 
  1. Bone loss: As estrogen wanes, you tend to lose bone more quickly, putting you at higher risk of osteoporosis.
  1. Cholesterol changes: Low estrogen can increase your LDL cholesterol (aka ‘the bad kind’). You may need to tweak your diet to account for these changes.  Thyroid can play a part in raising LDL as well so that’s also an important piece to the menopause puzzle.

How Long Does Menopause Last?

According to the Office on Women’s Health, perimenopause symptoms last around four years. Yet, they can last anywhere between two to eight years. 

Once you hit the magic menopause mark, your symptoms will fade in intensity and frequency. Yet, these symptoms tend to linger around 4-5 years on average. 

Natural Perimenopause Support: 6 Tips to Try

While you can’t avoid perimenopause symptoms entirely, you can put into place dietary and lifestyle changes to smooth the ride. Here are six ways to tame menopause symptoms naturally:

1. Vagus Nerve Exercises

Erratic periods, night sweats, and mood swings are stressful stuff! Luckily you can combat perimenopause stress by triggering your parasympathetic nervous system, aka ‘rest and digest mode.  Because the adrenals glands play more of a role in sex hormone production the closer one gets to menopause, it's important to rest them so they can go to work for you. 

One way to do that is by activating your vagus nerve. The vagus nerve serves as the bridge between your gut and brain. It activates your parasympathetic nervous system, helping you chill out and build resilience to stress.  Night sweats which are often confused for hot flashes are oftentimes triggered by stress, so even more of a reason to care for your adrenal glands.

Stimulating your vagus nerve is simple and only takes a few minutes a day! I break down five different ways to stimulate your vagus nerve in this post – so be sure to check it out (#2 is my fave)!

2. Eat More Plants (& Less Sugar)

Eat vegetables

When estrogen production slows down, so does your metabolism. You may begin to notice you’re putting on some pounds, even if you haven’t changed your diet or exercise routine.

Luckily, you can keep hormonal weight gain in check by eating more plant foods. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and fiber-rich. Fiber is the key to feeling full longer, so you’re less likely to overeat. Many studies have found a link between high fiber diets and weight loss.  Taking a daily natural fiber supplement is helpful even on top of a plant-based diet.

And if hot flashes are driving you bonkers, try limiting your sugar intake. Research shows women with higher blood sugar levels tend to have more hot flashes. 

3. Turn Down the Alcohol and Caffeine

Both alcohol and caffeine are known to trigger hot flashes. Avoid them if you can, or limit them at the very least. 

4. Move Your Body

If you want relief from perimenopause symptoms, then get your body moving! Since exercise aids in mood, memory, sleep quality, and more – it can provide relief on many levels.

Women who exercise regularly tend to have less severe symptoms than sedentary women. In one study perimenopausal and postmenopausal women took part in an exercise routine for 12 weeks. Subjects had improvements in symptoms like sleep quality, depression, and insomnia. 

5. Do Kegel Exercises

Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles may help reduce bladder issues. As a bonus, it might spice up your sex life too! To learn how to do Kegel exercises, check out this video

6. Try Supportive Supplements

ginseng

Many supplements can provide natural support for perimenopause symptoms, including:

  • Black cohosh: An herb from the buttercup family and popular remedy for menopausal symptoms. One review found black cohosh improved hot flashes and night sweats by 26%. 
  • Calcium: As estrogen declines, it puts you at greater risk of osteoporosis. Eating plenty of fiber and calcium-rich foods will help keep your bones healthy. Most adults need around 1,000 mg a day. But if you’re a woman over 50, aim for 1,200 mg.  Foods high in calcium include nuts, seeds, organic soy, beans, lentils, and low-oxalate containing greens such as kale and bok choy.
  • Vitamin D: This strengthens your bones and may help boost your mood. You can get a free dose of vitamin D with regular sunshine. But if sunshine is scarce in your area, consider adding a D3 supplement of up to 5000 IU daily.

7. Get Your Gut Right!

The gut microbiome is central to both systemic and estrogen metabolism, and is altered by the menopausal transition, suggesting an important role of the microbiome in the increased metabolic risk faced by menopausal women. Conversely, an imbalanced or bacterial overgrowth in the microbiome can also impact hormones. It's important to get your gut AND hormones tested and take measures to balance both. Do you know that we offer an online program that does just that?

Takeaways

Perimenopause brings a lot of changes physically, psychologically, and sexually. While ‘the change’ can be uncomfortable, it’s natural. Modifying your diet and lifestyle may help you soften the bumps along the way.  

But, if menopause early symptoms are interfering with your life, make sure you get the support you need. The DUTCH Hormone test is a great place to start. It gives you the inside scoop into your unique hormone puzzle, so you’re not blindly treating symptoms. 
If you’re ready to get to the root of your hormonal issues and regain balance, click here to schedule your complimentary Discovery Call. We’ll chat about your hormonal health concerns and create a customized program with targeted nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle recommendations to restore harmony to your hormones.

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