Women often wonder about the differences between menopause and perimenopause.
"Perimenopause is the time around menopause," explained Dr. Armity Simon, a Valley obstetrician and gynecologist. "You haven't quite gotten to the period of time that the periods will stop and the estrogen that is being produced by the ovaries will shut down."
Basically, perimenopause is the time when the fluctuation of hormones produced by the ovaries happens. The time frame varies from woman to woman.
"Some people will be in it six months, some people 10 years," Simon said.
Symptoms of perimenopause, which are also symptoms of menopause, include hot flashes, fatigue, weight gain, muzziness in the brain, decreased libido or sex drive and dryness in different parts of the body.
Simon said the most common symptom, and the one that tends to worry women the most, is the hot flashes.
"They're not feeling comfortable. They just don't know what's going on," Simon explained.
The average age of menopause in the U.S. is 51. That means some women will go through perimenopausal changes in their early 40s. Others won't experience it until their late 50s.
"If you are having some symptoms, bring it up with your doctor," Simon advised. "It makes a difference so we can check some hormones and guide you. There are things we can do to get people through those perimenopausal times by putting you low doses of hormones or birth control pills or even diet and exercise."
Simon explained that some amount of weight gain is normal with perimenopause and menopause because estrogen is made in the peripheral fat.
"When that happens, your estrogen actually is stabilized," she said.
Simon went on to explain how hormone-replacement therapy works, saying it often involves a combination of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone and that there is no "one size fits all" formulation.
"At the end of the day, it has to be formulated for you," Simon said. "It's a trial and error."
The bottom line is you don't have to struggle through the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. There are things you can do to make your body's transition easier. It doesn't have to be simply "part of getting older."