Menopause is nature’s way of saying your menstrual cycles are over, a diagnosis typically given after 12 months without menstruating. During this time, a woman’s reproductive hormones gradually decrease. In the United States, women experience menopause at an average age of 51 years old. However, some women also experience the symptoms in their 40s. It’s essential to know the signs and symptoms of menopause so that you can speak with your doctor about possible treatments that offer relief.
What are the Most Common Symptoms of Menopause?
Though each woman may experience varying symptoms, the most common signs of menopause are as follows:
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Mood swings
- Difficulty sleeping
- Vaginal dryness and itching
Some women may experience all or a few of these symptoms in varying intensities and frequencies, and many women also experience irregular periods before they stop altogether.
While this is an expected and natural process, menopause may be caused by surgery on the ovaries, chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatments, or an insufficient presence of reproductive hormones. This insufficiency is known as premature menopause and, though rare (around 1% of women), may appear in women under 40 years old.1 Premature menopause signs are common to those of regular menopause; however, if an indication of insufficient hormones, a doctor visit may be required to protect the patient’s bones, brain, and heart.1 For example, women who received an oophorectomy—the surgical removal of the ovaries—may immediately experience symptoms of menopause because of the sudden decrease in estrogen.
What are the Stages of Menopause and Their Symptoms?
Many women will experience these symptoms throughout menopause, but some symptoms are more common during certain stages. Let’s go over the stages of menopause and what you should expect during each one.
Perimenopause is the transition period into menopause and may begin as early as 8 or 10 years before menopause. The most common perimenopause symptom is irregular periods, which may be spotty, heavy, or disappear for several months before occurring again. However, you may also experience more painful cramps, breast tenderness, and other period symptoms.
Menopause is diagnosed once a woman does not have periods for a full year. You may experience a wide variety of symptoms, including mood swings, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness, in addition to the other symptoms discussed throughout.
Post-menopause is the remaining period after menopause, which is signaled by a lack of periods for 12 months. During this time, women are more at risk for heart disease and osteoporosis and experiencing several other symptoms.
Potential Complications Associated with Menopause
Many women experience menopause without any serious complications, but some may experience side effects apart from those listed above.1 Estrogen levels, which decrease during menopause, are tied to more than women’s reproductive cycles.
The drop in estrogen levels is associated with increased harmful cholesterol or LDL cholesterol and a decrease in beneficial cholesterol, or HRT cholesterol. Because of this shift, women experiencing menopause are more at risk for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which increases the possibility of heart disease.
Estrogen has been proven to directly relate to bone density, including how bones heal and form. In addition to bone formation, estrogen also regulates how calcium is transferred from bone into the bloodstream, all affected by menopause. As estrogen levels decrease during menopause, the risk of osteoporosis gradually increases.
One of the more unfortunate signs of menopause many women experience is weight gain around the abdomen and thigh regions. This is partly due to menopause, as a decrease in reproductive hormones leads to an increase in weight. However, since menopause typically occurs for women in their 40s and 50s, this weight gain is also caused by a lower metabolism.
Decrease in Sexual Function
These levels influence women’s risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and weight gain, but they also affect the vagina’s moisture and elasticity. This may lead to vaginal dryness, which may cause light bleeding and discomfort during sexual intercourse. Because of this discomfort and the loss of sensitivity in the vagina, many women experience decreased sexual desire and activity. However, your doctor may offer some treatment options that can help with this.
In addition to sexual function, this change in vagina elasticity and moisture may also lead to issues with bladder control, including urge incontinence, stress incontinence, painful urination, and nocturia. Urge incontinence is the loss of urine involuntarily, and stress incontinence occurs when coughing, lifting, or laughing leads to the involuntary loss of urine. These are quite common menopause symptoms; however, women may also experience painful urination—experiencing discomfort while urinating—and nocturia—the frequent sensation of needing to urinate at night.
Emotional Symptoms Related to Menopause
With all of these symptoms, it’s no surprise that many women experience emotional swings and changes. Night sweats or chills combined with bladder control issues may lead to difficulty sleeping. Some women experience foggy-headedness, confusion, or minor lapses in memory during menopause as well. Other symptoms may include:
- Decrease in motivation or energy
- General mood changes, especially depression and anxiety
- Irritability and aggression
However, many of the emotional signs of menopause may also be felt outside of menopause or perimenopause. It’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing these emotions more frequently.
Contact Us at Nore Health
Menopause is a natural process, but that doesn’t mean it’s a comfortable one. We’ve helped hundreds of women with their menopause symptoms and maintain a healthy lifestyle during menopause. If you are experiencing symptoms of extreme discomfort or have questions about how to help your menopause symptoms, contact us to schedule an appointment. We are happy to help you during this journey in your life.