The pesky intruder no one tells you about: meet Perimenopause. Yes ladies, it's a thing!

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock Photo: Supplied

When you spend the majority of your teen years, twenties and thirties dealing with a pesky intruder on a monthly basis - yes, I'm looking at you Period - one of the upsides of being pregnant is closing the door on that sucker for a while. 

But don't get too comfy, because you're going to meet plenty of other intruders, potentially unexpected ones, and wonder if they'll ever leave.

After you give birth, it's highly likely you're battling so many intruders you start to wonder if your body has indeed been taken over by aliens. So much so, even the humble period seems tame. 

Then, just when you feel like you're starting to return to normal. (Wait, who are we kidding, that never happens). Just when you start to feel like you're getting a handle on all these new intruders, you settle into the somewhat frenetic phase of child rearing. Eventually, you even start to see the sun shine and you look off into the distance…'oh there's Menopause, I won't be seeing you for a while', you think. 

Return to status quo, enjoying life in your thirties and forties, and then bam!

You realise there's an infiltrator, maybe a squatter, who's been prowling around, just waiting for the opportunity to take up residence. 

Meet Perimenopause!

At lunch with a bunch of wonderful girlfriends I've known for years, the other day, I happened to ask if they've been introduced to him yet. (Yes, for consistency's sake, let's call it a him).

I was met with shocked looks from most. Yep, my darling friends, I hate to be the bearer of bad news and the burst your fabulous forties bubble, but it's a thing. Peri meaning 'around' or referring to the transition to menopause! The change before the change!

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Just as many of us are fortunate enough to deal with Aunt Flow quite smoothly, some of us also escape the Peri in Menopause. 

But if like me, you don't, I'd like to make sure you're alert, but not alarmed, when this unknown trespasser strikes. 

It marks the beginning of a gradual decline in oestrogen made by our dear ovaries as they begin to wind down and can last several years until our ovaries stop releasing eggs or our periods cease for at least 12 months. 

Of course, there's nothing homogenous or consistent about it, according to endocrinologist, Dr Sonia Davison. "The pattern of hormonal fluctuations can be quite erratic," she explains.

Oh, and at the risk of freaking you out too much, this gate crasher can arrive early to the party - I'm talking in your late thirties! 

And here's the clincher, this hormone cocktail brings symptoms not too dissimilar to pregnancy. Yep, weight gain, bloating, breast tenderness, spotting, (for some, heavy bleeding between periods), erratic mood swings, anxiety, hot flushes, night sweats, fatigue, loss of libido, insomnia, memory loss….the hair on your head thins, and you could cultivate a small beard on your chin. Basically, perimenopause comes with the works! 

And, here's the funny part, you can still get pregnant! 

Naturopath and author Jenny Blondel says you may find you don't cope with stress as well as you used to and are three times more likely to suffer anxiety, depression and insomnia. "It's a particularly vulnerable time, when women are busier than ever with career and family."

But, thankfully it's not all doom and gloom. There are ways to deal with this pesky intruder, providing you know what you're up against. 

There are all the usual snippets of obvious advice like, exercise regularly, stop smoking, drink less alcohol and maintain a healthy weight. However, if you want some serious armour against this critter, I urge you to seek help. 

Firstly, doctors are your best friend. Find a good one, one you can trust and preferably one that deals with women's issue. They can measure exactly where you're at with a variety of hormone and blood tests and possibly a pelvic examination to rule out any other issues. 

The Australian Menopause Society says women may find it reassuring to know that while perimenopause is usually more symptomatic than the menopause, and it's easier to manage clinically. 

There are lots of ways to help balance your oestrogen and progesterone hormones, which is crucial when kicking this ugly intruder to the kerb. Both hormones can come in many forms, from the contraceptive pill, to hormone therapy, via tablets, creams, gels or a skin patch. Antidepressants can also help in the short term. And some of you might like to see a Naturopath who can give you a number of herbs and natural supplements to help reduce any number of these symptoms.  A

According to Blondel, "Nutritional supplements like magnesium, calcium, vitamin B's C and E can help, along with hormone balancing herbs like black cohosh, wild yam, chaste tree and sage. There are also lots of ways to support your moods like St John's Wort, GABA and 5HPT."

The key – is to remember, if you're a woman, chances are you're not alone, so please don't suffer alone. 

You're also, no doubt, a god damn warrior and will fight this gatecrasher and survive like only a champion can! 

Now, stand by for Menopause.