Perimenopause, What You Need to Know

A term you've possibly come across. But what exactly is it and how does it differ from menopause?...

Perimenopause refers to the first stages of menopause, the time where your body is transitioning to menopause. According to the Mayo Clinic, it generally lasts for about 1 year. After this period of time, your body is in menopause. Perimenopause is a term that is somewhat less heard of and understood, but it is crucial to understand it in order to fully understand menopause and what it entails.

I first realised that I was experiencing perimenopause when I was dating my current boyfriend. I was 27 and had just finished up my 25 sessions of pelvic radiotherapy as part of my Oncology treatment for Cervical Cancer. The radiotherapy effected my ovaries and caused medically induced early menopause.

Alan was dropping me to and from our dates and each time I left his car I left a little reminder of myself behind for him,...MY HAIR!!! I've never had a long luscious head of hair unlike my beautiful younger sisters, so I was particularly embarrassed at the amount of it I was shedding off in Alan's car and winter coat!

Hair loss and hair thinning are common side effects of perimenopause and menopause which I will discuss in other blog posts.

Shortly after the hair loss became a new norm for me, the dreaded hot flushes came to say a very loud and obnoxious HELLO!! There's no sugar coating it gals, they. were. AWFUL! For me, they came very suddenly out of nowhere. They weren't fussy of where I was or who I was with when they arrived. I could be out walking the dogs, in a deep sleep, sharing a bottle or vino with the girls or with one of my consultants at a hospital appointment and I would instantly need to strip off the layers, the shoes and socks and tie my short thin hair up because my 'mop' was really worsening the heat. - I think not...

My hot flushes also came with a very strong rush of anxiety. Both the heat and feeling of anxiety would rush through my entire body causing palpitations, but thankfully they would only last for a short minute or two until their next arrival. They had their greatest impact on my sleep when they came alongside night sweats, which became a big issue for my overall health. Being sleep deprived and ill rested began to make my Cystic Fibrosis health suffer, so it became a bit of a juggling act.

I was inarguably very ill prepared for the arrival of any perimenopause or menopausal symptoms. I was unsure when and if I would definitely experience it as a side effect of my oncology treatment. I had little to no information on what to expect from it as it is unique to each woman and I was completely unaware how to prepare for it's arrival. In hindsight, this is very unsurprising as we know all too well that women's health issues are historically poorly researched and supported in the Irish health system.

As I was at the young age of 27 when I first started experiencing perimenopausal symptoms, I knew very little about the menopause. It wasn't a topic I thought I needed to educate myself on yet, I thought that was 'future Aoife's' problem. How young and naïve that was of me...

The truth is that I'm still only learning about it and all on my own accord with no official medical guidance. I can't wrap my head around why this is the reality that I am faced with. Surely the topic of the menopause should be included in our Sex Education curriculum in school or college? At present, we are wrongfully led to believe that the end point of hormone imbalances occur once puberty settles down. There is no shared information on the hormonal changes that occur in our bodies later in life (for most), leaving us at a loss and scratching our heads when we start to hear those whispers of the word menopause from the elders in our tribe.

We neeeeed to start having an open and educational conversation about perimenopause and menopause. We need our young women and young men to be aware that there is more after puberty to learn about. This could improve so many things for us massively. We could learn to have empathy for our mothers and wives on what they are enduring, instead of blaming mood swings and fatigue on other unrelated reasons.

This system isn't working. Sex education needs to be modernised. We need to finally break free from old Catholic Ireland. We need to be teaching our young people about contraceptive options and how they effect our health and we need to have better access to them too. We need to teach them at an earlier age on the issue of consent and we need to teach them about the menopause.

Aoife P R

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