The transition to menopause can be an unpredictable and uncomfortable time in a woman’s life.

Commonly referred to as perimenopause, this transition phase centers on the gradual shutting down of the ovaries and typically occurs in the mid- to late-40’s.

Most women at this stage in life are past child bearing and taking advantage of permanent forms of contraception as opposed to birth control pills. Without the pill to help regulate menstruation, the body is left to perform on its own. This usually results in irregular periods that become increasingly erratic as the body continues working toward menopause.

In addition to irregular periods that may be heavy one month and nonexistent the next, this decade can be marked by extreme emotion, hot flashes and night sweats resulting from the ovaries’ inefficient and unregulated production of hormones — another sign that they are shutting down.

There are various ways to manage the symptoms of perimenopause, including birth control pills to regulate hormone production and menstrual cycles, hormone-producing intrauterine devices (IUDs) to reduce blood flow during menstruation, endometrial ablation to stop blood flow altogether, and other naturopathic means.

About 75 percent of all women experience menopause between the ages of 50 and 54. This occurs when the ovaries officially cease producing hormones. Since everyone is different, family history often is the best predictor of when menopause will happen. Unfortunately, there is no test to predict exactly when one’s final period will occur, and blood tests during perimenopause to evaluate hormone levels are ineffective due to natural variability of hormone production from one day to the next.

If you are experiencing signs of perimenopause, speak with your physician to see how you may be able to manage fluctuations in hormone production and, in turn, your symptoms.

• Scott Crawford, MD, FACOG, is gynecologist on staff at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. For more information on this topic, talk to your doctor or call Crawford’s Ahwatukee office at (480) 759-9191.

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