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Signs and symptoms of menopause

Hormone levels dropping can cause all sorts of symptoms for women. About 85% of women experience some hormone-related symptoms as they approach and transition through menopause. Most symptoms last for about 4 years after your last period, but one in every 10 women experience them for up to 12 years from the start of perimenopause to the end of menopause [1]. There are many different symptoms linked to menopause. Here, we explain some of the most common. It's important to know there are lots of services and products that can help you along your menopause journey.

Physical symptoms

Hot flushes and night sweats

These are the 'mothers' of the menopausal symptoms - affecting up to 70% of women in Western cultures [2]. Hot flushes are when women experience an overwhelming sensation of extreme heat that washes wash over their bodies. There's often very little warning that the change in temperature is coming. The intense heat often causes the skin to flush. Night sweats are hot flushes that happen at night - these can leave women waking up soaked in sweat.

Like all symptoms, their severity differs from one person to the next. We've spoken to women who have really bad hot flushes and night sweats and others who only experience them mildly. Have a read of our Hot Flushes and Night Sweats article's to learn more about them and the different ways to manage them.

Vaginal symptoms

As oestrogen drops, the structure of the genitals can change. Lower oestrogen causes the vaginal walls to become thinner. The pH of the vagina also increases - this may increase your risk for developing infections. The natural secretions your vagina produces will also reduce as oestrogen drops. This means less lubrication down there! Such changes can lead to feelings of itching, burning and pain when you pee.

These changes are common with up to 40% of women experiencing some vaginal symptoms. Vaginal dyness is one of the most ignored symptoms experienced by women and only half of those suffering seek help! Don't be hesitant to tell your health care provider about your symptoms; it's the only way they can help!

Low libido

Low sex drive is a common complaint as women approach menopause. Decreasing sexual appetite is completely normal as sex drive tends to decrease with age for men and women. The drop tends to be more pronounced in women.

Sex drive can change in women for hormonal or non-hormonal reasons. As oestrogen drops, the vaginal wall gets thinner and produces less lubrication. This can lead to painful sex, or decreased desire because sex feels less pleasurable. Non-hormonal factors that impact sex drive include poor relationships, lack of sleep and stress.

Many women want a healthy sex drive into their 70s - so it's important not to ignore changes in sex drive. There are lubricants to make sex easier, and steps you can take to improve your mental health. Don't suffer in silence.

Dry skin and hair

One of oestrogen’s effects in the body is that it boosts our production of collagen. Collagen is an important protein that helps build healthy skin and nails. When levels of oestrogen fall, collagen levels fall too. This can cause the skin to become dry and flaky and hair to become dry and brittle. Have a read of our Dry Skin article for ways to manage it during your menopause.

Don't worry though - there are plenty lifestyle changes you can make to support healthy skin and nails. There are also products to help reduce dry skin and flakiness.

Headaches

Headaches are common during perimenopause and menopause due to the big swings in oestrogen and progesterone. Headaches can also worsen if you are not sleeping well - again, something which is common as women age.

The relationship between menopause and migraines is not a straightforward one. Some studies suggest that the 'aura' that comes with migraines can lessen after a natural menopause. But surgical menopause seems to make migraines worse.

Weight gain

Women often report changes to their shape and weight as they approach menopause. Whilst changes in hormones may cause fat to deposit around the middle, hormones do not themselves cause weight gain. Hormonal changes just impact where the weight goes on the body.

Mental symptoms

Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal emotion but can become a problem when you are excessively worried about things and can not go about your normal life as a result. Many women will experience anxiety at different points throughout their life.

Anxiety can be very difficult to deal with and leave you feeling isolated - but there are effective treatments. These include practicing mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy, talking therapies as well as medication. Seek support from a medical practitioner if you are feeling anxious.

Low mood and depression

Depression is one of the most common illnesses in the world. Depression is defined by persistent and prolonged periods of feeling low that make life difficult to deal with. Depression is more than a single bad mood. A wide range of symptoms is associated with depression - from crying to not being able to leave the house.

Many different things can contribute to depression and many women do report it during perimenopause and menopause. There's often a lot going on in life at this time - aging parents, busy jobs and kids growing up. Each of these can impact mental health.

Depression can be treated with psychological therapy, medication or lifestyle changes. Again, speak to a medical practitioner if you are struggling.

Mood swings and irritability

Lots of women will have experienced some form of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) in the lead up to their period. PMS often manifests as mood swings and being a bit more irritable (or grouchy) than normal. PMS mood swings are caused by hormones so you can guess that wild menopausal hormone swings might also bring mood changes!

If mood swings are beginning to have an impact on your life and personal relationships then take action. Don't just ignore them and hope they go away! Lifestyle changes like diet, exercise and stress-relieving techniques such as mindfulness, can help you manage your mood.

Fatigue

There are different types of tiredness - but persistent exhaustion that makes life difficult is called fatigue. Fatigue can be another symptom of menopause. As with the other mental health symptoms discussed, there are ways to help yourself with lifestyle or medication.

Brain fog

Some women struggle with 'brain fog' as they approach and pass through menopause. This term describes problems with memory, concentration, attention and learning new things.

Memory changes with age are completely normal. However, as with most symptoms, if changes in memory start having a significant impact on your ability to live your life you should seek help.

References:

  1. nhs.uk. n.d. Menopause - Symptoms. [online]
    Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/symptoms/ [Accessed 10 October 2019].

  2. Hillard, T., Abernathy, K., Hamoda, H., Shaw, I., Everett, M., Ayres, J. and Currie, H., 2017. Management Of The Menopause. 6th ed. British Menopause Society.