A woman wearing a red raincoat stares into the ocean on a gloomy day.
Are you ready for menopause? Or even perimenopause? The storm is coming, so now is the time to act to make it less of a tempest. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

So many women come to see me when they are experiencing what I call the Perfect Storm.

Their bodies are changing and they are faced with night sweats, increased belly fat, irritability, depression, lack of energy, irregular or heavy periods and decreased sex drive. That’s quite a list!

The Perfect Storm occurs when two fronts collide and cause havoc with your body.

The first front is caused by changing hormones, which then leads to an array of symptoms: night sweats, hot flashes, disturbed sleep, anxiety, irritability, decreased motivation and sex drive, and cravings of sweets and simple carbs. The second front is the change in your body chemistry, including changes in hormone levels.

The result? Good cholesterol levels go down, bad cholesterol goes up, insulin resistance increases, belly fat builds up and brain chemicals drop.

To more fully understand the Perfect Storm, it helps to know the three phases every woman goes through in adult life: reproductive phase, perimenopause and menopause.

Here’s a brief summary of each phase:

  • Reproductive phaseMany women in this phase feel normal and experience regular periods. This is the time we really don’t have to think about our hormones, and our body just makes sense. Toward the end of this phase, symptoms such as menstrual migraines, night sweats, mood changes and sugar cravings sometimes start. These symptoms are predictable and occur the three days before your period starts.
  • PerimenopauseThis stage is sometimes referred to as midlife, and it’s also where the Perfect Storm occurs. Your periods start to become irregular, closer together and heavier, and symptoms like night sweats, sleep difficulties, mood changes and belly fat weight gain can become worse. You may even skip some periods and then begin having regular periods again.
  • MenopauseThis phase means you haven’t had a period in 12 months—yeah! However, it’s important to note that if you go three months without a period and then you get one, the clock starts all over again. Approximately 80 percent of women experience symptoms during menopause, which typically last between two and five years after the start of menopause. The good news is that women who seem to handle the symptoms the best are the ones who continue to kept their weight in the healthy range, remain active, drink plenty of water and get plenty of sleep each night.

After menopause, it is very difficult to alter the course you are on, so if you want to weather your Perfect Storm and keep your symptoms in check, you need to make sure you are on a healthy path right now. What happens during the storm will determine the course of the rest of your life, so ask for the help you may need to sail through your Perfect Storm.