When Your Period Goes Haywire

The hormonal imbalance leading up to menopause can cause some unsettling -- and surprising -- symptoms. And they can start a lot earlier than you might think.
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When Your Period Goes Haywire

After years of periods that were as regular as clockwork, everything began going crazy when Denise Crandall turned 40. "When I started getting very heavy periods every two weeks I thought, 'This is ridiculous,' and went to see my gynecologist," says Crandall, a 42-year-old mother of two active boys, 12 and 9, who lives in Manhattan Beach, California. She was also suffering from crippling migraines and would sometimes awake in the middle of the night drenched in sweat.

When a series of tests ruled out all the scarier possibilities, such as uterine cancer, it became clear that Crandall was going through perimenopause, the transition between normal menstrual cycles and full-blown menopause. Her doctor prescribed birth control pills, which steadied the hormone swings that were causing her symptoms, and Crandall felt like her old self again. "It's heaven," she says.

Many women in their early 40s and even mid-30s are caught off guard by symptoms like Crandall's that they don't connect to the menopause transition -- from early hot flashes that feel a lot like fever to menstrual bleeding that becomes more or less frequent, heavy, light, or just plain unpredictable. These changes may come on gradually and often mimic PMS: feeling cranky, anxious, and depressed; gaining weight; having trouble sleeping; being exhausted. Some might also signal serious conditions that aren't related to menopause.

But they're most likely connected to the wildly fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone women get as the ovaries begin to shut down.

Continued on page 2:  The Change Before the Change


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