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Managing menopause: Menstrual cycle changes

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Preparing for menopause

Do you remember the first couple years after you started menstruating? In those years, your cycle may have been a little irregular as your body adjusted to these new hormones and generally being an adolescent. Somewhere along the line, your cycles regulated and, if not like clockwork, then at least were somewhat expected and consistent. Again, after childbirth, your menstrual cycle may have had to re-regulate. After all that regulation and re-regulation, you may have thought you were in the clear in terms of what to expect with your periods. But then came perimenopause.

Birth control pills

Just when you thought it was all going to be as expected from here on out, the changing hormones of perimenopause - the years leading up to menopause - threw your cycle into confusion again. You may have been calendar-predicting regular with nary a cramp or other symptom for years and years, but not anymore. And the only end in sight is menopause itself. While every woman experiences perimenopause and menopause differently, being aware of how the hormone fluctuations of perimenopause can continue to change in your menstrual cycle may mean you are more prepared and better able to handle them.

Irregularity


One of the first things you may notice is that your periods become increasingly irregular. You may have a 23 day cycle one month, and a 29 day cycle the next. Then a 27 day, then another 29, then a 24. The only thing expected about these cycles is that they are unexpected. While you used to be able to predict when your period might arrive, you can't anymore. Unless you are using hormone-based birth control, there's no guarantee of when your cycle will or won't arrive.

 

Heck, you might even think, the first few times this happens, that you are pregnant. As you still need to think about birth control until your doctor confirms that you are indeed menopausal, this may be in the mix - or it may not be. It can be an uncertain time, in so many ways. Even if you haven't thought about your reproductive abilities in years, you may now. It's okay to feel bittersweet about even the possibility of having more kids being over.

Most women will start going through menopause after age 45. Find out tips on managing premature menopause here.

Intensity

The general intensity of your period may vary during this time, too. Your periods may become heavier at times, and difficult to manage. You may also have lighter periods, and everything in between. You may again look at white and light colored clothes with ambivalence.

Side Effects

With the variability of cycle length and flow intensity, you may have an increase in other symptoms, too. The greater fluctuations in hormones may mean cramps like you haven't had since you were 16 and breast tenderness like you are newly pregnant. You may have mood swings and other symptoms, too.

Talk to your doctor

Your doctor can help you choose ways to manage some of these issues if they become particularly problematic for you. There are procedures available that can help reduce some menstrual cycle symptoms, and hormonal treatments can help others. Communicating about what you are managing well and what you are not managing well is important. You don't have to go through this alone, and there is no need to suffer!

Get tips here on managing menopausal symptoms without the need of hormones or medication.

Be prepared

At the very least, preparedness can help you manage the changes of perimenopause. That's emotional preparedness as well as a trip to the feminine hygiene section of the local store. Your body is changing, and your needs may change...literally. Like when you were quite young, keep appropriate supplies handy for the unexpected.

 

More than a few women have looked forward to not having to deal with periods again, but getting to that point is not necessarily a simple process. You may, in fact, have to "deal with" your period a whole lot more in the years leading up to it being over than you ever had during your reproductive life. There are reasons menopause is often called the "change of life!" Being prepared, in whatever way that means for you, can help ease that transition.

Connect with other women going through perimenopause and menopause on our SheKnows menopause message boards.

For more on menopause:

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