Symptoms include changes in the menstrual cycle, such as heavier or shorter periods; mood swings; anxiety; memory lapses; an inability to concentrate; and sleep problems.
A woman's hormones can start changing up to 10 years before menopause takes hold. That transitional period is called perimenopause.
"You ovulate sporadically or not at all, but you still make estrogen at a fluctuating level," said Dr. Steven Goldstein of New York University Medical Center.
Perimenopause, however, is treatable. Women can take a very low-dose birth-control pill to control their estrogen levels. Lifestyle changes that can minimize symptoms include exercising more, stopping smoking, drinking less alcohol and taking antioxidant vitamins such as A, C and E.
Doctors, however, often fail to recognize the condition, as 35-year-old Cheryl Woodards found out when she sought treatment for her sudden mood swings, hot flashes and sleeplessness.
Her doctors gave her differing diagnoses.
Woodards asked one doctor about her numb and tingling fingers.
"He said it was probably due to occupational stress," she said. Another doctor said her symptoms were mainly emotional and put her on an antidepressant.
After nine of months without relief, she knew something else was wrong. "It was like Â… no, no, no! I've got to get a handle on this!"
She was right. Persevering, she got her symptoms diagnosed correctly.
Now, Woodards is doing better. She has changed her eating habits. She takes vitamins, herbal supplements and estrogen pills to control her symptoms. And she is relieved to have found out what was causing them.
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