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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : Do women often have mood changes due to perimenopause? Can you offer any information about how long the period of menopause can last, between night sweats to light-to-no period?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Joan Marie Bengtson, M.D., is assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproduction at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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April 18, 2012
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A:

Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her menstrual periods end. This happens because the ovaries stop making the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. In most women, this is a gradual process rather than an abrupt event. As the hormone levels go down, the bleeding pattern may change and other symptoms of estrogen loss may happen. The transition period from the onset of noticeable changes to the end of menstrual bleeding is called perimenopause.

Common symptoms of perimenopause include:

  • Irregular periods
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Hot flashes

Hot flashes that happen at night can disturb your sleep. This can lead to fatigue, irritability, and mood changes. The duration and intensity of symptoms varies widely among women. While the change may last 3-5 years, troubling symptoms usually last for a shorter period of time. And they can be treated if necessary.

Depression may occur at a higher rate in perimenopausal women (about 15% compared with about 10% in premenopausal women). Though the rate may go down again once the transition is complete. Women with a history of depression are prone to flare ups during perimenopause. Still, the relationship of depression to menopause is complicated because so many other life changes tend to happen around the same time. Non-hormonal events such as career challenges, children leaving home, and caring for aging parents may add to depression as much or more than hormone changes.

Weight gain is also affected by several factors that happen around the time of menopause. Both your metabolism and physical activity tend to slow down with age. Hormonal changes probably influence how fat in the body is distributed. But the hormonal changes may not directly cause an increase in weight.

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