The symptoms of menopause aren’t hard to miss. Some women go through menopause without any complications or unpleasant symptoms. But others find menopausal symptoms debilitating, beginning even during pre-menopause and lasting for years.
The symptoms that women experience are primarily related to a lowered production of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Symptoms vary widely because of the many effects that these hormones have on the female body.
Estrogen regulates the menstrual cycle and affects the reproductive system, urinary tract, heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles, and brain. As a result, women can experience the symptoms of menopause over their entire body.
Your period may not be as regular as it used to be. You may bleed heavier or lighter than usual, and occasionally spot. Also, your period may be shorter or longer in duration. If you do miss your period, make sure to take a pregnancy test just to rule out pregnancy. 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 your 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 (NIA, 2012). Most women experience hot flashes for a year or two after their final menstrual period. Some will have them for longer, but they lessen in intensity over time.
Most menopausal women have hot flashes, and some choose to seek treatment if their hot flashes significantly disrupt their lives. There are many alternative remedies available that offer relief from hot flash symptoms, but some women choose to take prescription drugs to ease the discomfort, despite the possible side effects (NIA, 2009). Speaking with your doctor about these options will help you decide which, if any, are right for you.
The decreased production of estrogen and progesterone can affect the thin layer of moisture that coats 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 vulva as well as stinging or burning. Vaginal dryness can make 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 or a vaginal moisturizer. If you still feel discomfort, talk to your doctor.
For optimal health, doctors recommend seven to eight hours of sleep each night for adults. But, 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 light can disrupt your sleep. Bathing, reading, or listening to mellow music before bed may help you relax.
It’s common for menopausal women to lose control of their bladder. You may also 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.
During menopause, some women experience an increase in the number of urinary tract infections (UTIs) contracted. 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 give you antibiotics.
It’s common to feel less interested in sex during menopause. This is caused by physical changes brought upon by reduced estrogen. These changes can include a delayed clitoral reaction time, slow or absent orgasmic response, and vaginal dryness. To help you to continue to have a satisfying sex 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 treat the condition.
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 these hormone fluctuations affect your brain and that “feeling blue” is not unnatural.
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 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.