Emotional Effects of Menopause Begin Earlier Than You Think

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 13, 2001 -- Menopause can be a time of emotional turmoil for some women. But more medical research is showing that the toll the hormonal upheaval can take on a woman's well-being can actually start years before she might think.

Early signs of hormonal changes can begin well before actual menopause. This is called "perimenopause," which occurs anywhere from three to nine years before a woman's period actually stops.

A woman can best determine if she is in perimenopause by paying close attention to her menstrual cycle. During this time, the woman may experience slow changes in her menstrual cycle, including shortening or lengthening of the time between periods and more or less bleeding during a period.

Researchers led by Joyce T. Bromberger, PhD, of the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh, also wanted to determine if emotional changes take place during perimenopause. They studied over 16,000 women aged 40-55 and found that signs of psychologic distress, such as feeling tense, depressed, and irritable, occurred more frequently in women during perimenopause than in women who were not approaching menopause or had already gone through menopause.

Almost 30% of women in perimenopause were experiencing distress, whereas only about 21% of other women were having the same problems.

The study is published in the September issue of American Journal of Public Health.

The researchers say that these findings highlight the need for women and their doctors to pay close attention to this time in women's lives and take action to treat symptoms of perimenopause early. Even mild symptoms of anxiety and depression can greatly affect quality of life and should be treated.