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What It's Like Going Through Perimenopause With Fibromyalgia

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Over a year ago now, fatigue, which had always been a feature of my fibro, took an abrupt turn for the worse. Some days, I’d be so exhausted that I’d have to head back to bed straight after breakfast as I just didn’t have any energy. The monthly migraines I’d gotten used to were now happening more and more frequently. I was becoming increasingly frustrated and low, and the activities that would usually nourish me were just too much effort.

I tolerated all of this for a while before booking a doctor’s appointment, even though I thought that all of these unwelcome changes could easily have been attributed to fibromyalgia. Fortunately, I have an excellent doctor who didn’t want to make any assumptions and so I was sent for a blood test to determine my hormone levels. A few days later, I was called with the results… I was perimenopausal.

With the benefit of hindsight, this diagnosis was something I should have considered given I am in my early 40s. But my periods were still regular and perimenopause wasn’t something I had been told about when I was younger and not something I’d ever discussed with anyone either. A quick straw poll of my friends revealed I wasn’t the only one to be woefully uneducated about it.

Perimenopause isn’t talked about as much as it should be although slowly, progress is being made. In May 2019 here in the U.K., BBC Breakfast TV program held a “Menopause Week” which discussed a different aspect of menopause each day to raise awareness of issues faced by women during this life stage and also to address the taboos surrounding it.

But given that, according to the NHS, there are around seven times as many women affected by fibromyalgia as men, it’s a topic that is very relevant to the majority of us fibro folk. The term perimenopause refers to the phase during which a woman’s body transitions towards menopause. The age at which a woman begins perimenopause varies but is usually between the ages of 45 and 55 with the average age to reach menopause in the U.K. being 51. Some women experience no menopausal symptoms at all, but amongst those who do, some of the most widespread symptoms are:

  • Changes to periods
  • Night sweats
  • Hot flushes
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Low mood or anxiety
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Aches and pains
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Palpitations

What’s interesting, reading through the above list, is just how many of these are also symptoms of fibromyalgia. So the onset of perimenopause could go unnoticed by a woman with fibro, just like it did with me. Tiredness, headaches, concentration issues, aches and pains, depression and sleep problems will be very familiar to many of us as fibro symptoms as well, and our fibro symptoms can be exacerbated by the changes that occur throughout perimenopause.

My doctor told me that perimenopause varies from woman to woman both in terms of its symptoms and its length, which can range from a few months to several years. Not every woman will need treatment for the symptoms of menopause, but the most common forms of treatment are:

  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) – this works by replacing the estrogen hormone and can be taken in various forms including tablets and skin patches.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – a type of talking therapy that can address the anxiety and low mood aspects of menopause.
  • Diet and Exercise – a balanced health diet coupled with regular exercise can help alleviate certain menopause symptoms.

I’m using this phase of my life as a good opportunity to reassess where I am with my fibro management plan. I’m trying a few different things – new herbal supplements, a renewed focus on sticking to a healthy diet as much as possible (chocolate is a major downfall for me though!) and I’ve added some strength and flexibility exercises into my daily routine. At this stage, I’m not sure how the next few years will play out for me. It will undoubtedly be a challenge, based on my experiences to date, but forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.

Getty image by Digital Skillet.

Originally published: March 29, 2021
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