We all remember what our first period experiences were like. It was a scary, messy, and often confusing time in our lives. It marked the beginning of a new chapter and we watched in fascination as our bodies stumbled into its own particular menstrual rhythm. This stumbling phase often was marked with irregular periods—maybe two periods back to back or month-long gaps between periods. But as chaotic and crazy as it seemed, it was all a natural part of our reproductive cycle.
Similarly, as we near menopause, our periods can again fall into a similar stage of uncertainty and change. Having our bodies fall so out of whack can leave us feeling scared again but there should be nothing to be scared of! It is (again) all a normal part of our body’s cycle and a little information is all we need to help us understand exactly what we can expect.
Menopause is defined as the absence of the menstrual periods for one year. But the years leading up to menopause is called perimenopause. During perimenopause, women can experience swings in hormone levels that affect ovulation and the regularity of their menstrual cycle. And this perimenopause phase can last up to ten years.
So experiencing a shift in your periods doesn’t necessarily mean you are going into menopause the very next day. It is just a sign that your body is preparing itself for the next eventual stage.
Why does the irregularity in periods happen?
It is due to the shift in levels of our hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is most associated with our menstrual cycles but it also keeps our cholesterol in check and contributes to bone and tissue growth. Progesterone triggers the lining of the uterus to thicken to accept a fertilized egg. It also prohibits the muscle contraction in the uterus that would cause the body to reject an egg.
Too much or too little of either hormone can throw our menstrual cycles out of whack. And during perimenopause, that is exactly what is happening. Our hormone levels go through huge swings and our bodies react to the increasing or decreasing levels of our hormones. This means we can experience not only irregularly spaced periods but also irregular bleeding. There might be months of heavy periods followed by sudden light ones. As troublesome as this may seem, this is all within normal range during perimenopause. But of course, no one knows your body as well as you. If anything feels abnormal or seems a cause for concern, always be safe and consult a medical expert.
All this change can make for an uncomfortable transition. Heavy bleeding, spotting, or irregularly spaced periods all can affect the quality of life and can make the experience of perimenopause even more difficult. But there are options out there to help make life a little better in regards to the changes in our periods. Some women have found treatments such as the Mirena IUD to be an option. It is a plastic contraceptive device inserted into the uterus which releases a synthetic progestin called levonorgestrel.
It can help periods not only become lighter but in some cases, stop altogether. But of course, with any kind of prescriptive medication, oral or intrauterine, there can be side effects. The release of synthetic hormones from the IUD changes our body chemistry and can sometimes cause side effects like abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, or depression. And as with any new medication, there is also often an ‘adjustment period’ where the body goes through fluctuations as it acclimates to the new prescription. Sometimes, in the end, your body chemistry just might not be right for an IUD. It is understandable why some women might look for a more natural remedy.
For a less invasive, more natural option, supplements can be a great alternative. Taking progesterone supplements like Asensia can help regularize heavy and erratic periods. By balancing hormone levels, supplements can also help ease other symptoms associated with menopause such as hot flashes, fatigue, and weight gain. Of course, the drawback of any natural supplement is that it will take longer to see the effects than with prescription medication. But this can often be a positive for most women. A steady, gradual improvement can be easier to maintain long term. And since supplements are often gentler than medication, the body usually doesn’t react in such wild swings as you begin your new routine. In the end, each woman should choose whatever option she feels is best for her body and lifestyle.
Our bodies are always constantly changing and shifting, sometimes slowly, sometimes very rapidly. But there is no reason why these changes must be borne uncomfortably or painfully. We can take control and help our body adjust through a variety of means. By being informed and educated, we are our body’s best advocate. Understanding the life cycle of our periods only helps us to understand how better to care and love our bodies.