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What to expect in the years leading up to menopause

“I see a lot of women in my practice with symptoms they think are attributable to menopause,” says Charlotte Grayson, M.D., a primary care physician at Piedmont Physicians Group. The most common symptom they attribute to menopause is when their menstrual cycle stops, but other symptoms include:

  • Anxiety

  • Heart palpitations

  • Hair loss

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Hot flashes

“What I usually see in my 40-year-old patients aren’t women who are in menopause, because menopause occurs when menstrual cycles have stopped for a full year,” she says. “Menopause usually occurs in a woman’s early 50s, not the 40s, although we do see it.” So if menopause isn’t causing these common symptoms, what is? Dr. Grayson says it’s perimenopause.

This occurs in the years leading up to menopause when a woman’s menstrual cycle becomes irregular. “Your estrogen levels are fluctuating wildly and they’re causing mood changes, hair loss, insomnia, and a variety of other uncomfortable physical symptoms,” she explains.

Mood changes

“Most women will tell you, in their 40s, when their hormone levels are fluctuating, they’re having mood changes,” she says. “They say they’re more irritable, things set them off more, and a lot of women are anxious and tend to worry a lot.” Some women even become depressed.

Fortunately, all of these symptoms are treatable. “I usually tell my patients if the mood swings are mild and you can function through them normally in your lifestyle with your kids, spouse and at work, then you don’t need to be treated,” says Dr. Grayson. “But if it is interfering with your ability to function, then we should consider therapy, medications or a combination of the two.”

Dr. Grayson says many people believe estrogen’s purpose is strictly related to reproductive health, but the body actually has estrogen receptors all over. This means you can see changes beyond just your reproductive system. These changes can include:

  • Hair texture

  • Hair loss

  • Dry skin

  • Increased heart disease risk

  • Increased osteoporosis risk

Hot flashes

The most uncomfortable perimenopause and menopause symptom, says Dr. Grayson, is hot flashes. “For some women, they are debilitating,” she says.

Menopause symptom treatment

Hormones can be used to treat both perimenopause and menopause symptoms. “Hormones are perfectly safe in most women as long as they aren’t on hormones for too long,” says Dr. Grayson. The majority of Dr. Grayson’s patients are women over the age of 40. Most manage the stages of perimenopause and menopause easily and without medication, she says. “Usually it’s a normal, natural process that you just have to go through and on the other end, most women are completely fine.”

Dr. Grayson practices at Piedmont Physicians Yorktown, located at 101 Yorktown Drive, Suite 100, Fayetteville, GA 30214. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Grayson or one of our other primary care providers. Save time, book online.

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