Symptoms of Menopause

Depressed woman sitting on couch

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The dropping levels of estrogen and other hormones that defines menopause—or, more accurately, the lead-up period known as perimenopause—can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, ranging from vaginal dryness to night sweats to mood swings. The usual age for naturally-occurring menopause (and the onset of symptoms) is 51, with the normal range being between 40 and 54.

Though every woman will experience this differently, some menopause symptoms are more common than others. There are also symptoms that go beyond undesirable and are considered serious concerns.

You may feel more prepared to enter menopause, or be able to detect the beginning of this transition, by reviewing the symptom possibilities.

Frequent Symptoms

For many women, the symptoms of menopause are mild, while others find them more than bothersome. The following are symptoms that are commonly reported.

Menstrual Irregularities

Often, the first symptom of impending menopause is a change in the length of your cycle. It may be longer between periods, shorter between periods, or a combination of the two.

Hot Flashes and Night Sweats

A hot flash is a sensation of “flushing,” or a sudden feeling of heat, often accompanied by sweating. It's the menopause symptom most often mentioned by women; up to 75% report it.

When this occurs during sleep, it's called a night sweat. Night sweats can disrupt your sleep, which can have an impact on your overall health and wellness.

While hot flashes tend to peak during the early part of postmenopause, some women experience them for several years.

Vaginal Dryness and Urinary Problems

As estrogen is less available, the walls of the bladder, urethra, and vagina become drier and less flexible. This makes the tissue more easily damaged and more prone to infection.

Some of the symptoms of this loss of elasticity include:

Mood Swings

As estrogen and progesterone decline, some women describe themselves as “emotional.” They report being more easily triggered into strong emotional responses such as sadness, anger, irritability, or delight.

Some women see themselves as suddenly unpredictable, which can be unsettling. Often, it prompts them to seek help for this symptom.

Headaches

Both migraines and tension headaches may increase during menopause. Since migraine headaches are vascular in nature, and since the vascular system is more unstable during menopause, migraines can become more frequent and difficult to manage.

Insomnia

Many women report a greater tendency to be wakeful. Sometimes this is due to night sweats, and other times it's due to neurological excitability—both of which are more common during menopause. Once awake, women find it difficult to go back to sleep and can suffer from sleep deprivation as a result.

Weight Gain

Your metabolism will slow with age, so weight gain is common in menopause. The combination of changing patterns of fat deposits, less muscle mass, and a slower metabolism can give you a larger abdomen and “flabby” arms and legs.

Memory and Cognitive Changes

This symptom, too, is one that is often distressing for women. While some loss of memory is normal with aging—especially word retrieval and short-term memory—if cognitive changes interfere with your ability to do everyday things, it’s a good idea to get them checked by your health care provider.

Fatigue

Some women experience profound fatigue during menopause. Fortunately, it's usually temporary and the result of your body’s adjustment to lower estrogen.

If fatigue prevents you from doing your daily activities, or if it lasts more than two months, see a health care provider to rule out other causes.

Decreased Libido

Many women notice that their sexual desire lessens when they become menopausal. Sometimes this is a temporary response to hormone shifts, but it may also be a reaction to other things like stressors or difficult life situations.

If you notice that you desire sex less often or don’t seem to enjoy it, and this creates problems in your life or relationship, talk to your doctor or provider about possible treatments.​

Rare Symptoms

Women have reported many unusual ways that their bodies respond to the change in hormones. Though not common, you might experience:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Asthma
  • Aching joints and muscles
  • Bizarre dreams
  • Indigestion
  • Hair loss
  • Burning sensation in the mouth
  • Change in breath odor or a “bad taste” in the mouth
  • Change in body odor
  • Unusual neurological experiences like “creepy crawly” feelings in the skin, tingling, numbness, itching, “electric shocks”

If you experience any of these, check with your healthcare provider to see whether it's due to menopause or something more serious.

Early or Induced Menopause

There are additional concerns for those who have menopause at an early age or have sudden induced menopause due to surgery or injury.

  • Premature menopause: If you go into menopause before age 40, it is considered to be abnormal. Autoimmune disorders are often associated with premature menopause.
  • Induced menopause: If you have an injury to or removal of your ovaries, you can go into menopause abruptly. This often results in more intense menopausal symptoms.

Complications

Though menopause happens to every woman and is a natural, healthy process, it can lead to changes that impact your health.

Heavy Bleeding

If you find that your periods are increasingly heavy (though irregular) and that you have to change your super tampon or maxi pad more than once an hour for eight hours, your bleeding may indicate a health concern.

Heavy bleeding can be a sign of fibroid tumors, uterine polyps, or uterine cancer. It can also cause you to become anemic and should be evaluated by a medical professional.

Cardiovascular Disease

After menopause, a woman's risk of cardiovascular disease increases. Unfortunately, this is the leading cause of death for women.

You will need to pay attention to managing your risks for cardiovascular disease. That means ensuring you get enough exercise, maintain a healthy weight, and eat a heart-healthy diet. If you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about how to manage those conditions.

High blood pressure might be the first sign that your cardiovascular system is beginning to show some wear and tear, and menopause could be the (or a) reason behind it.

As your estrogen decreases, the walls of your blood vessels may become less flexible. This can cause your blood pressure to rise, which is a risk factor for stroke and heart disease.

Because blood pressure can climb slowly and unannounced, or suddenly become quite high without any obvious symptoms, it's worth getting your blood pressure checked at least every six months when you begin to see signs of menopause. You can do it at a local drug store or your doctor’s office, but try to have it done at the same place each time so you can compare it reliably.

Some occasional heart palpitations or irregular beats can be normal during the time around menopause. But if they are happening frequently, or are accompanied by troubled breathing, fainting, chest pain, anxiety, or nausea, they could be signs of heart disease or a heart attack.

Osteoporosis

Menopause leads to rapid loss of bone density, especially in the first few years. This can lead to osteoporosis and increase your risk of breaking your hip, wrist, or spine.

Be sure that your bone density is assessed and you take medications and supplements as advised by your doctor.

Depression

The hormone changes in menopause can trigger depression, especially if you have a personal or family history of it. Even if you have not had problems with depression in the past, the stresses and hormone shifts that come at this time of life can overwhelm your ability to cope.

Sometimes the combination of situations and hormones will send you into depression despite your best efforts to manage your mood. If you feel this way, speak with your healthcare provider.

Confide in a close friend or family member when you suspect that you may be depressed. If you need a little moral support to see a doctor or counselor, ask your friend or partner to go with you to the first appointment.

When to See the Doctor/Go to the Hospital

While a hot flash and heart palpitations may just be menopausal symptoms, call 911 if they are accompanied by signs such as chest pain, a burning sensation, difficulty breathing, sweating, fatigue, or sudden anxiety. In women, the signs of a heart attack can be different from the classic signs.

If you have any new or unusual symptoms, talk with your doctor to see if you need further evaluation. They may be due to an unrelated condition that should be fully diagnosed and treated.

If you have any thoughts of harm to yourself or others, seek immediate help by calling the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or 911.

A Word From Verywell

You will need time to adjust to and understand your “new” body and paying attention to symptoms can help you identify health issues early. Menopause is a great excuse to start taking good care of yourself with exercise, stress relief, a better diet, and ensuring you get all of your preventative health checks. Pamper yourself and look forward to your next stages of life.

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Article Sources

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