The symptoms of menopause aren’t hard to miss. Some women go through menopause in a breeze without any complications or unpleasant symptoms, whereas others find menopausal symptoms debilitating, beginning even in pre-menopause.
The symptoms that women experience are primarily related to a lowered production of estrogen and progesterone and vary widely because of the many effects that estrogen has on the female body.
Estrogen regulates the menstrual cycle, affecting the reproductive system, urinary tract, heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles, and the brain. As a result, women can experience the symptoms of menopause throughout their entire body.
Common menopause symptoms include:
Changes in Menstrual Cycle
Your period may not be as regular as it used to be: you may bleed heavier or lighter than usual and occasionally spot, and your period may last shorter or longer in duration. If you do miss your period, make sure to take a pregnancy test just to rule pregnancy out; if you’re not pregnant, a missed period could indicate the onset of menopause. If you do begin spotting after not having your period for 12 consecutive months, make sure to talk to you doctor to rule out any serious conditions, such as cancer.
Many women complain of hot flashes as a primary menopause symptom. Hot flashes can be a sudden feeling of heat either in the upper portion of your body or all over. Your face and neck might turn red, and you may feel sweaty or flushed. The intensity of a hot flash can range from mild to very strong, even waking you from sleep. A hot flash generally lasts between 30 seconds and 10 minutes. Most women experience hot flashes for a year or two after their final menstrual period. Some will have them for longer, but they lessen over time.
Most menopausal women experience hot flashes and some choose to seek treatment if their hot flashes significantly disrupt their life. There are many alternative remedies available that offer relief to hot flash symptoms, but some women choose to take prescription medications to ease the discomfort, despite the risks.
Vaginal Dryness and Pain with Intercourse
The decreased production of sex hormones—estrogen and progesterone—can affect the thin layer of moisture coating the vaginal walls. Women can experience vaginal dryness at any age, but it is a particular problem for menopausal women. Signs can include itching around the vaginal opening as well as stinging or burning. Vaginal dryness can make sexual intercourse painful and may cause you to lightly bleed or feel like you need to urinate frequently. To combat dryness, try a water-based lubricant for intercourse and a vaginal moisturizer. If you still feel discomfort, talk to your doctor.
Insomnia or Problems Sleeping
For optimal health, doctors recommend seven to eight hours of sleep each night for adults. However, during menopause it might be hard for you to fall asleep or stay asleep. You might wake up earlier than you wish and have trouble going to back to sleep. To get as much rest as you can, try relaxation and breathing techniques. It’s also important to exercise during the day so that you’re tired once you hit the sheets. Avoid using your computer or cell phone before bed, as the blue light can disrupt your sleep. Try spraying some lavender on your pillow, reading, or listening to mellow music before bed so that you’re fully relaxed.
Frequent Urination or Urinary Incontinence
It’s common for menopausal women to lose control of their bladder, feel a constant need to urinate even without a full bladder, or experience painful urination. This is because during menopause, the tissues in your vagina and urethra lose their elasticity and the lining thins. The surrounding pelvic muscles may also weaken. To fight urinary incontinence, abstain from too much alcohol, stay hydrated and strengthen your pelvic floor with Kegel exercises. If the issue persists, ask your doctor what medications are available.
Urinary Tract Infections
Some women experience an increase in the number of urinary tract infections (UTIs) contracted during menopause. Lowered levels of estrogen and changes in the urinary tract make it more susceptible to infection. If you feel a persistent urge to urinate or a burning sensation when you urinate, see your doctor. Your doctor will likely ask that you take a urine test and prescribe you antibiotics.
It’s common to feel less interested in sex or find difficulty becoming aroused during menopause. This is caused by physiological changes brought upon by reduced estrogen production: delayed clitoral reaction time, slow or absent orgasmic response, and diminished vaginal lubrication. To help you to continue to have a sexually satisfying life, there are many over-the-counter and prescription treatments available.
Vaginal atrophy is a condition caused by the decline in estrogen production and characterized by the thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls. The condition can make sexual intercourse painful for women, which can ultimately decrease their interest in sex. Fortunately, over-the-counter lubricants or prescription treatments that include localized estrogen therapy, such as an estrogen cream or a vaginal ring, can successfully treat the condition.
Depression and Mood Swings
Changes in hormone production affect the mental stability of women during menopause. Women report feelings of irritability, depression and mood swings, and often go from extreme highs to severe lows in a short period of time. It’s important to remember that unpredictable hormone fluctuation affects your brain and that “feeling blue” is not unnatural.
Skin, Hair and Other Tissue Changes
As you age, you will experience changes in your skin and hair. Loss of fatty tissue and collagen will make your skin drier and thinner and will affect the elasticity and lubrication of the skin near your vagina and urinary tract. Reduced estrogen production may contribute to hair loss or cause your hair to feel brittle and dry. Make sure to avoid harsh chemical hair treatments which can cause further damage.