Even before you bid your 30s adieu, you might start noticing that things with your body aren’t quite the same as they used to be. Why? Hormones that have been steady since puberty begin to drop, laying the groundwork for an end to ovulation and some pretty major side effects. Welcome to the beginning of menopause. Here’s what to expect — and what you can do to feel your best each step of the way.
“Perimenopause, or the years before your period fully stops, can start as early as 35, but most women will experience it in their mid-40s,” says Toni Mueller, M.D., a gynecologist with Complete Women Care in southern California. This transition to menopause usually lasts about seven years, and for some women can stretch on as long as 14 years. During this time, the levels of the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone start falling, which kicks off a wide range of symptoms. “A big one is that your cycles will get irregular, maybe becoming more infrequent, but heavier,” says Dr. Mueller. “You also could start having hot flashes and night sweats.”
Other potential side effects: less muscle mass, more belly fat, lower energy levels and libido, more intense mood swings before your period and trouble concentrating. “Estrogen is also what keeps your vaginal flora in harmony, so now is when you can start to have less lubrication and more painful intercourse,” says Dr. Mueller. Other vaginal changes include a higher risk for yeast infections and a thinning of your external genital tissue, which can cause irritation and pain during sex.