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The 4-8(ish) Year Rollercoaster of Peri-Menopause

“Gosh it’s hot in here”, my mother-in-law says to me while I’m practically donning an Eskimo suit.

Menopause literally means “a pause of months”, indicating the end of menstruation (hooray, glass half full approach 😉) But a lot of other things happen to our bodies when we approach the age for menopause as well. Welcome to perimenopause.

Women will experience, when entering the 4 to 8(ish) year rollercoaster of perimenopause, a change in the menstrual cycle first. Cycles can be shorter or longer, lighter, or heavier. This can be accompanied by premenstrual symptoms like fatigue, irritability, and sore breasts. Alongside this, women may experience other bodily symptoms like hot flushes, night sweats, aches and pains and sleeping difficulties. Women might also have unwanted hair growth in some areas, and thinning hair on the scalp and pubic region. Other less obvious changes occur in our bones (osteopenia/osteoporosis).

The Circle of the Cycle!

While symptoms of menopause vary greatly from woman to woman – the goal is the same; ensuring that you come out the other side of menopause a strong, healthy and happy woman.

And lastly, a vital component to our womanhood that will be affected during this time of our lives. Our vagina, of course!

Our vaginal tissues are “oestrogen dependent” meaning they require a certain level of the oestrogen hormone in the area to function well. As our bodies go through menopause, the oestrogen hormone, produced in the ovaries, decreases significantly, leaving the tissues deficient in oestrogen.

The vaginal tissues include the skin, the blood vessels, and the muscles of the pelvic floor, urethra and anus. This effects our vaginal hydration and self-lubrication, the effectiveness of our pelvic floor musculature at maintaining active continence and the internal urethral and anal pressures that helps us maintain passive continence.

So, what does this mean for our poor vagina’s? (like they haven’t been through enough already!) It means that they can become dry. This can lead to itchy and irritated skin around the genitals. It can also lead to painful and stingy sex (like carpet burn on the vagina, ouch), which can lead us down an awful path of pelvic pain if we persist with painful sex.

We might also experience new sensations in the vagina, like heaviness, bulging or discomfort. This may not indicate a change in our structures, but just an increase in tissue sensitivity in the area.

TLC for Your Vagina Through Menopause

Dryness, pain, and irritated skin are common; but not something to simply ‘live with’. Let’s get you feeling peachier!

Olive & Bee Barrier Lube | The Healthy Peach Physio

Finally, we may experience a change in our pelvic floor function. Having a new onset or increase in urine leaking with coughing or sneezing (or leaking without even realising it!). Or being unable to contract our pelvic floor muscles hard enough to maintain bladder or bowel continence while we make our way to the toilet.

Of course, these symptoms don’t occur to every woman experiencing menopause, and some women won’t find these symptoms bothersome at all. But about 60% of women will have mild symptoms for 4-8 years, 20% of women will have no symptoms, and another 20% will be severely affected.

If you are experiencing some (or all!) of these symptoms, discussing them with your GP, women’s health physio and other health professionals like naturopaths and exercise physiologist, is a great place to start to ensure this perimenopause rollercoaster ride has as few peaks and troughs as possible, and that you come out the other side of menopause a strong, healthy and happy woman.

Feeling like you need an expert on your side?

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