Symptoms of Menopause

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Menopause occurs after you stop getting your period for 12 months. It typically occurs in the late 40s to early 50s in people who have a uterus and ovaries. However, changes and symptoms can start a few years before menopause. The time leading up to menopause is called perimenopause.

A person's ovaries start to produce less estrogen and progesterone during perimenopause. Changes in these hormones cause symptoms of menopause. Ovulation, the release of mature eggs from the ovaries, will also be less and less frequent during this time.

Other Causes of Menopause

Surgery to remove both ovaries will trigger menopause immediately unless you start hormone replacement therapy. This is called surgical menopause. Medical treatments for breast cancer, such as chemotherapy, may also induce menopause.

However, not all women experience physical changes beyond irregular periods. Some menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes and trouble remembering, typically resolve when menopause progresses to postmenopause, which lasts for the rest of a woman's life.

Close up of a mature woman using her phone at home at night

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Frequent Symptoms

Hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause. They usually occur in the year before a woman’s period stops and in the year after.

A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat and may include flushing of the face and neck, red blotches on the chest and arms, and sweating sometimes followed by shivering. A hot flash can last from 30 seconds to 10 minutes.

Menopausal symptoms typically appear during perimenopause. The symptoms vary greatly among individuals and can last anywhere from months to more than a decade.

Other common symptoms besides hot flashes include:

It’s normal for your sex drive to diminish with age and during menopause. However, a decrease in libido is not universal. Some people will experience no change or even an increase in sexual interest.

Women in perimenopause can experience:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Worsening symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Heavier- or lighter-than-usual periods
  • Racing heart
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Changes in libido (sex drive)
  • Difficulty concentrating, memory problems

Rare Symptoms

Some people have also reported the following symptoms:

  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Joint and muscle aches and pains
  • Hair loss or thinning
  • Temperature or sensation changes (such as chills and tingling)
  • Body odor changes and breath odor
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Burning sensation in the mouth or a bad taste
  • Facial hair growth

People going through the stages of menopause who are experiencing new symptoms of racing heart, urinary changes, headaches, or new health issues should contact a doctor to rule out other illnesses and complications.

Complications

Individuals may experience the following complications related to the underlying hormonal changes of menopause.

Osteoporosis

Estrogen plays a vital role in bone reformation, acting as both a signaling hormone and a receptor. Osteoporosis, a bone disease that happens when the body loses too much bone or doesn't make enough bone, could occur due to decreasing estrogen levels during menopause. A woman can lose up to 20% bone density during the five to seven years following the beginning of menopause. Bone density loss rates do vary, though.

This condition makes a person's bones weaker and more prone to fractures. Fracture estimates have shown:

  • About 20% of women die in the first year after a hip fracture, representing an increase in mortality of 12%–20% compared with those of similar age and no hip fracture.
  • Half of previously independent older women become partly dependent after hip fracture. 
  • One-third of women become totally dependent following a hip fracture.

Heart Disease and Stroke

Lower levels of estrogen in postmenopausal women may play some role in their increased risk of stroke and heart disease. Menopausal symptoms like depression and sleep problems are also potential culprits behind increasing heart disease risk.

Other risk factors affecting the heart during this life stage include:

  • Poor eating patterns, a history of smoking, or excessive drinking
  • Potential decrease in physical activity 
  • Increase in blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Increase in LDL (unhealthy, or "bad") cholesterol
  • Decrease or no change in HDL (healthy, or "good") cholesterol

Do Not Ignore Signs of a Heart Attack

Hot flashes and heart palpitations accompanied by chest pain, a burning sensation, breathing problems, fatigue, or sudden anxiety could be signs of a heart attack. If you have these symptoms, seek immediate medical help.

When to See a Doctor

While menopause is not a condition that can be "cured," you can still see your doctor for symptom management, if necessary.

Reasons to call a doctor include:

  • If changes in sexual interest are interfering with your quality of life
  • If intercourse is painful due to vaginal dryness and you want to discuss remedies
  • If you don't know how to talk to your family about what you’re experiencing and want advice on how to garner more emotional support
  • If sleep problems are ongoing, worsening, or disrupting your daytime hours
  • If mood changes are looking more like depression
  • If hot flashes are disrupting everyday functioning
  • If you’re worried about your risk of heart disease or osteoporosis

Also see a doctor if you are still having periods and they become heavier or more frequent than they had been before perimenopause. These could be signs of precancerous changes or cancer in the uterine lining.

If you have any thoughts of harming yourself or others, seek immediate help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or by calling 911.

Summary

Common symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, and vaginal dryness. Seek the advice and care of a healthcare provider for help with managing your symptoms, especially if they are causing significant discomfort.

A Word From Verywell

The symptoms of perimenopause and menopause may be different from one woman to the next. As such, it is best not to make assumptions about how any one person is experiencing menopause. For some, symptoms like insomnia and hot flashes will be a part of their life for years, waxing and waning. Others may experience minimal symptoms.

If you are at additional risk for osteoporosis or heart disease, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risks. Do not begin any home treatment without first consulting a healthcare professional. 

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12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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