Side Effects of Menopause

About 1.3 million women enter menopause each year. Every woman will reach this phase at some point—usually around age 51.

You have reached menopause if it has been one year since your final menstrual period. The hormonal shifts that take place around this time cause a variety of symptoms, with hot flashes, night sweats, and difficulty sleeping ranking among the most common.

This article will explore the stages of menopause, and what side effects to expect as you move through this natural process.

Woman talking with her doctor

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What Is Menopause?

Menopause is the natural process that occurs in the body as a woman reaches the end of her reproductive years. As we age, all sorts of hormone levels begin to drop—both for men and for women.

In women particularly, menopause occurs when your ovaries stop making estrogen and your progesterone levels drop. Without these hormones, you stop menstruating and are no longer able to become pregnant.

Menopause usually occurs around age 51, but can happen anywhere between the ages of 45 and 55. In some cases, menopause can occur earlier or later and can be influenced by external factors, like certain surgeries or medications. For example, chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can sometimes make you enter menopause early and suddenly.

You have officially reached menopause when you have gone 12 months without having a period. Your period doesn't usually stop suddenly. You will notice gradual changes in your body as hormone production slows, so there are several stages of menopause.

Stages of Menopause

It can take years for your body to transition from a reproductive to a menopausal state. This transition is split into stages, each with specific features and symptoms.

  • Perimenopause: This is usually a three- to five-year period before menopause when your estrogen and other hormone levels begin to drop. You can still get pregnant during this period, and you may experience irregular periods or other symptoms of menopause.
  • Early menopause: This is the name given to the sudden or early menopause some women may face. This stage can occur at any age and is usually the result of medication, procedures like the removal of your uterus (hysterectomy) or ovaries (oophorectomy), or a condition called premature ovarian failure.
  • Menopause: This is the period that begins 12 months after your last menstrual period. As your body adjusts to the lack of reproductive hormones, you can experience a variety of symptoms. This process usually begins around age 51, and can take one to three years.
  • Postmenopause: This is the period generally a year or more after your last period, typically once you have adjusted to the drop in reproductive hormones.

Side Effects and Symptoms

Just like during puberty, the shift in reproductive hormones that occurs during the stages of menopause can trigger all kinds of symptoms. Not everyone has symptoms during menopause, but about 85% of women experience some level of menopause symptoms by the end of the process.

Will it happen to me?

Menopause happens to every woman and most experience symptoms in the process. On average, between 50% and 82% of women who enter menopause naturally report at least some symptoms of menopause.

Vasomotor symptoms are most common, and these happen when your blood vessels change in diameter. Below is a list of the most common symptoms reported during menopause and what to expect from each.

Irregular Periods

Hormones control the timing and function of your reproductive cycle. As these hormone levels naturally drop, changes in your menstrual cycle may be one of the first things you notice.

Some changes you may notice to your monthly period include:

  • Having your periods close together
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Spotting between periods
  • Bleeding that lasts for more than a week
  • Less frequent periods, you may have months between them

Vaginal Dryness

During menopause, the lining of your vagina may become thinner, dryer, and less stretchy. This can lead to uncomfortable vaginal dryness, painful sex, and even an increase in the risk of sexually transmitted infections due to small tears in the vaginal wall. About 13% of women experience this symptom during menopause.

Hot Flashes

Dropping estrogen levels are likely to blame for hot flashes—one of the most common and notorious symptoms of menopause. An estimated 40% of women experience hot flashes during menopause.

This symptom appears as a sudden feeling of heat, either in the upper body or all over your body. You may also notice red blotches on your skin, heavy sweating, or even shivering during a hot flash. Hot flashes usually last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes and can happen as little as once a week, or as often as a few times each hour.

Night Sweats and insomnia

Night sweats actually fall into the category of hot flashes. These hot flashes can be mild and you may only notice them when you wake up sweaty. They can also be severe, waking you from your sleep.

Night sweats aren't the only thing to disrupt your sleep during menopause. Many women report sleep problems during menopause, such as having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, waking during the night, or staying awake. Roughly 16% of women report some form of sleep disruption during menopause.

Weight Gain

Weight gain can happen during menopause for a variety of reasons. Aging can slow your activity levels, and other mood and sleep changes from menopause don't help.

Hormones also play a role in your metabolism and activity levels, making weight gain easier. Additionally, your waist may change shape, your bones can lose density and become weaker, and you may begin to lose muscle. About 12% of women report weight gain as a symptom of menopause.

Mood changes

The hormonal shifts that occur during menopause can have a big impact on your mood. This can be in part due to the stress and frustration of dealing with symptoms like insomnia or hot flashes. Roughly 12% of women report mood changes during menopause, and the risk is usually higher among women with a history of depression or other mental health problems.

You may also notice changes in your sexual desire or performance. Some women report an increase in sexual desire, but others may find less interest or pleasure in sex. Lubricants, extra time for arousal, and even masturbation may help, as these increase lubrication and circulation in vaginal tissues creating a protective effect.

Headaches

Hormonal shifts are a common cause of headaches before, during, and after menopause. Estrogen is usually blamed for headaches during menopause, but not everyone experiences increased headaches during this period. One study found that 24.4% of women reported an improvement in their headaches during menopause, while 35.7% reported worse headaches.

Diagnosis

Menopause is usually diagnosed with just a review of your symptoms, and your personal and family health history. In some cases—especially when menopause symptoms begin suddenly or unexpectedly—healthcare providers may suggest hormone testing using your blood or urine.

Treatments

There are many ways to tackle the symptoms of menopause, from homeopathic or natural remedies to prescription medications and hormone therapy. Menopause does not necessarily require medical treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about which option is right for you.

Medication

Most of the medications used to treat menopause are hormone therapies that artificially replace the activity of estrogen and progesterone. There are risks to these therapies, though. Risks and side effects of hormonal therapy can include:

Other options include medications like:

Home Remedies

There are a number of natural, homeopathic, herbal, and home remedies that are used to manage the symptoms of menopause, but clinical guidelines usually stress that there is a lack of data to support these therapies.

Still, some options for home or herbal remedies of menopause symptoms may include things like:

  • Black cohosh
  • Omega-3-fatty acids
  • Red clover
  • Vitamin E
  • Acupuncture
  • Soy
  • Mind/body therapies like yoga or meditation

Lifestyle Changes

As with other periods in life, lifestyle changes can go a long way toward helping you deal with the symptoms of menopause. This can include changes like:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting alcohol
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Regular exercise

A Word From Verywell

Menopause can be a challenging time, both emotionally and physically. As your body changes, you experience things like sweating, hot flashes, and insomnia. Alongside this, you are dealing with the other realities of getting older, like decreased energy level and sexual desire, as well as coping with the loss of your fertility.

You don't have to treat menopause medically, but your doctor can help you find ways to ease your symptoms and cope with the emotions that come with this transition. Remember, menopause is a natural event for women, and most will experience some degree of symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How early can menopause start?

    Menopause can begin at any age as the result of certain medications or procedures. Natural menopause usually begins between the age of 45 and 55, or at 51 for most women. However, if a woman has menopause anytime after the age of 40, it is still considered normal.

  • How late can menopause start?

    While most women will have started menopause by the end of their 50s, some women may not reach menopause until their 60s.

  • Why do you gain weight during menopause?

    Weight gain isn't usually a direct result of menopause, but a culmination of several factors like muscle loss, decreased activity, changes in fat distribution, changes in metabolism, and bone loss.

  • What can cause hot flashes other than menopause?

    There are several other health conditions and medications that can lead to hot flashes. Caffeine, thyroid imbalances, steroids, anxiety, and infections are just a few other possible causes.

  • What signs show the end of menopause transition?

    There isn't usually a clear end to the menopause transition. For some women, the transition can move quickly—beginning and ending around a year after their last period. For others, symptoms of menopause can last for three years.

  • What is the average age of menopause?

    Most women who enter menopause naturally do so around the age of 51.

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14 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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