Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause refers to the period 12 months after you have had your last menstrual period. It also marks the end of your menstrual cycle.
The average age for menopause in the United States is 51 according to the National Institute on Aging. However, perimenopause can start at any time during your 40s or 50s.
Some women go through menopause earlier if they have had surgical removal of the uterus or ovaries or after having treatments for cancer.
The changes usually begin during perimenopause, which is the period where you will start to feel the signs and symptoms of menopause. This phase can begin several years before your last period.
Changes to the levels of two female hormones made in your ovaries – estrogen and progesterone – lead to the start of these symptoms.
The average length of perimenopause is four years before periods officially end.
You may start to notice symptoms months or years before you are in menopause. You won’t know exactly when this will start, but if you pay attention to how you are feeling, you will start to notice changes.
Symptoms will vary from woman to woman, and some women may not have any symptoms that their periods may end soon.
Here are some telltale signs you are entering the menopause:
You will know a hot flash as soon as you have one.
A hot flash is a sudden overwhelming blast of heat starting at your forehead going down into your feet and accompanied by sweating. You may also experience flushing or redness in your face and upper body.
The experience of a hot flash can range from minor sweating to a feeling as if you are covered in too many blankets in a 90-degree room.
Hot flashes are your body’s response to the decreased supply of estrogen. Not all women experience hot flashes, but most do.
How quickly estrogen diminishes determines how frequent and strong your hot flashes will be. If your estrogen production stops suddenly, you are in for some pretty harsh hot flashes.
Night sweats are severe hot flashes occurring after you have fallen asleep.
They wake you up the middle of the night leaving you cold and clammy. Your heart might be pounding, and your sheets soaked in sweat.
For many women, night sweats can be so severe that they disrupt sleep and make it difficult to function during the day.
Menopause causes increases in sweat production separate from hot flashes and night sweats. This rise leads to increased body odor even if you maintain a good hygiene routine.
And while body odor changes are common, they are bothersome.
Ask your doctor about treatments for managing hormonal imbalances or make simple changes to your way of life, such as wearing clothing that is lighter and breathable.
Changes in Periods
If your menstrual periods start to come more often or less often, are heavier or lighter, or have changed in duration, you’re probably on your way to menopause.
It is also possible your periods will become unpredictable, and you may not know when the next one will come, how long it will last, and how heavy or light it will be.
You can still get pregnant as long as you are getting periods, so it is a good idea to maintain your contraception method.
Any bleeding – even spotting – after your periods have completely stopped isn’t normal and should be brought to your doctor’s attention.
One of the earliest signs of menopause is vaginal dryness. As estrogen decreases, so does the body’s lubrication of skin, hair, and more intimate areas, such as the vagina.
Vaginal dryness can make sex painful and uncomfortable.
Talk to your doctor about over the counter (OTC) lubricants, prescription lubricants and gels, oral and cream medications, and/or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help ease vaginal dryness. (HRT helps your body to produce natural lubrication.)
Loss of Libido
Some women report they are less interested in sex or have problems getting aroused when they are going through menopause.
The sudden drop in sexual desire is caused by hormonal imbalances and other symptoms of menopause, such as vaginal dryness and depression.
Menopausal mood swings are common but can be hard to cope with. They also bring about a rollercoaster of emotions – one minute you are happy as can be, the next you are either angry or crying hysterically.
Your mood swings can be abrupt and/or extreme. And sometimes your ability to control your moods can be frustrating and confusing.
Anxiety and Depression
Menopause and depression are commonly experienced together, and there are different reasons why some women experience depression and anxiety during menopause.
Some culprits are:
- Chronic health conditions
It is not always possible to completely avoid feelings of anxiety and depression, but with healthy eating, staying active and keeping social helps.
Concentration and Memory Problems
Changes in your hormone levels during menopause can impair your ability to concentrate and can result in memory problems.
It is very common to experience lapses in your memory and have problems concentrating during the early and middle stages of menopause.
Next page: continue to the next page to learn about other common symptoms of menopause including fatigue, incontinence, and weight gain.