Now, I am a woman in my 30s who has had a menstrual cycle for well over a decade now, and while I have heard the word "perimenopause" before, I admittedly could not have told you the first thing about it or what it means to actually experience it. And if we're really being honest here, I also don't know that much about menopause itself. Or how these two things differ. Suffice to say, I was immediately tuned in to this video.
In the clip, both King and Barrymore open up about their experiences with menopause and perimenopause respectively. Barrymore tells King, "I realized that I was in perimenopause when I started having my period every two weeks."
And King opened up about her own experience with menopause and the reaction that symptoms from these conditions — like hot flashes — can garner from the public. "I've been on the red carpet where photographers say, 'Gayle, are you OK?' [and] I go, 'It's just a hot flash,' and they go, 'Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry.'"
I was thrilled to see perimenopause and menopause being discussed in a real way. And a quick look at the comments section of the TikTok video showed that I was definitely not alone in this.
Like, why are women not taught these things?
Why are we expected to suffer with little to no information about what is even happening?
Seriously, at least prepare us!
So, in order to get more information on perimenopause and menopause in general, BuzzFeed reached out to Dr. Marieme Mbaye (MD, FACOG), a practicing OB-GYN and the acting medical director for the virtual care service Noula, which combines at-home hormone testing with affordable care coaching and care plans with the aim of supporting people throughout their adult life, including during perimenopause and beyond.
First, what exactly is perimenopause? And how does it differ from menopause? Johns Hopkins Medicine defines perimenopause as, "the transitional time around menopause." During this time, your body: 1) releases eggs less regularly, 2) produces less estrogen and other hormones, and 3) becomes less fertile. Some people may also experience shorter and more irregular menstrual cycles during perimenopause.
I knew that menopause would eventually be something everyone who has a period would go through, but suddenly, I started to wonder...is perimenopause something I am going to experience as well? And the answer is: Yes, I will. According to Dr. Mbaye, "Anyone who menstruates and has ovaries will go through perimenopause at some point, but everyone will experience it differently. Some people might have life-disrupting symptoms while others might not really notice any symptoms at all."
In terms of being able to identify if and when you, yourself, are experiencing perimenopause, Dr. Mbaye shared that "there are more than 30 symptoms associated with perimenopause, including irregular periods." But, says Dr. Mbaye, the four most common symptoms to be on the lookout for are: hot flashes, poor sleep, vaginal dryness, and mood changes. Dr. Mbaye continued, telling BuzzFeed, "Hot flashes and night sweats affect about 80% of people experiencing menopause transition. Other things to pay attention to are brain fog or difficulty concentrating, hair and skin changes, sore joints, difficulty losing weight, and digestive problems."
So, if you've found yourself experiencing symptoms that feel in-line with perimenopause, what can you do? "First," says Dr. Mbaye, "exercising regularly and not smoking are two of the best things you can do on your own that will help manage symptoms. Beyond that, there are lots of hormonal and non-hormonal medical treatments that can manage a range of symptoms."
Therapy is also an important tool, emphasizes Dr. Mbaye, especially for people who have more significant mood changes during this phase. Dr. Mbaye also shared that "if your symptoms are bothersome to you, bring them up to your doctor so they can then go through the options that are safe for your specific case." She continued, "All perimenopausal symptoms are treatable if they're bothersome, but they don’t need to be treated. It's always up to the patient whether or not they feel the need to treat anything."
As for what the general public should understand when it comes to perimenopause, Dr. Mbaye wanted to remind us all that while perimenopause does mean that a person's fertility is declining, you can still get pregnant! So, until you've gone the full 12 months without a period, don't take any chances unless you're OK with that outcome. Some people will go on hormonal birth control to take care of their symptoms and prevent pregnancy in one go, says Dr. Mbaye.
And finally, says Dr. Mbaye, it's crucial that we all keep in mind that "menopause has always been depicted as this awful experience where we lose our femininity or are no longer useful to (our patriarchal) society, which is ridiculous when you think about how much life we still have left to live after menopause."
And, finally, says Gayle King at the end of the segment on CBS Mornings, "When you think of menopause...you think; 'Old. Her life is over. She's done.'" But, continues King, "What we know is that's just not true. If there's any message we could get across, I think that would be the one that would be the most helpful."
Thank you to Gayle King and Drew Barrymore for having this discussion, and a special thank you to Dr. Mare Mbaye for helping us learn more about these conditions.
And here's to a future where we learn these things about our bodies before it starts happening to us!