The symptoms of menopause are different for every woman.
The word meno- comes from the Greek word for “month”, while the word -pause comes from the Greek word pausis meaning “stop,” or “pause.” Menopause is characterized by the cessation of a woman’s menstrual cycles for at least one year, and although the average age is 51, menopause can occur in the 30s for some women, and for others, it won’t happen until much later, in their 60s.
Every woman experiences menopause differently: she might experience hot flashes for a while, and they may disappear. She may experience a whole range of symptoms or hardly any at all. This list includes the more typical symptoms of menopause, but is by no means exhaustive.
Be sure to check with your doctor if you have questions.
Menopause is something that doesn’t happen overnight. When a woman begins to experience symptoms, but still has menstrual cycles, she is in perimenopause; a gradual process leading up to menopause itself.
Women in perimenopause may experience symptoms that can last up to ten years before the true onset of menopause. Since every woman is different, this process could be much shorter or even longer.
Irregular Menstrual Cycles
One of the hallmark symptoms of perimenopause is that menstrual cycles become irregular. Within those cycles, bleeding can be very light or very heavy, and can change from month to month. A woman might not have periods every month.
If you are suddenly experiencing irregular periods, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor to be sure it is, in fact, perimenopause and not another underlying medical condition.
Many women will experience hot flashes in their perimenopausal years: these are sudden sensations of feeling very warm that can last from around 30 seconds to several minutes. As these flashes generally occur around the face and chest area, sometimes women will also perspire and/or blush as they happen.
So far, doctors are unable to pinpoint what exactly causes them or what makes women susceptible to their occurrence. They do usually happen less frequently over time, with most women reporting they no longer get them after five to ten years.
Just as a woman can experience hot flashes, she might also wake up suddenly in the night drenched in sweat. When this occurs, it can be difficult to go back to sleep or get comfortable, and that can contribute to fatigue and irritability the next day.
The vaginal area may become less elastic, accompanied by a sensation of dryness due to lower levels of estrogen. Painful intercourse can also occur, as well as itching and general discomfort in that area. Unfortunately, these conditions can also make a woman more prone to vaginal infections.
Symptoms in the Urinary Tract
Changes with the urinary tract happen in a similar manner: the urethra (the tube connecting the bladder to the outside of the body), gets drier and tighter, and as a result, a woman might feel like she needs to use the restroom more frequently. She might even experience a certain amount of urinary incontinence, where she “leaks” while standing, laughing or sneezing. These factors contribute to an increased risk of urinary tract infections.
A number of women will experience mood swings ranging from contentedness all the way to emotional upset, and it’s the changes in hormone levels that are to blame. Accompanying the mood swings, many women feel fatigued, due in part to the other symptoms of menopause, which can then lead to more severe mood swings.
Changes in Memory and Thinking
Because hormone levels are changing, women sometimes report they can’t remember things as well and feel downright forgetful. They may feel groggy or unable to concentrate, especially if they are already feeling tired or exhausted.
Other women experience physical changes such as tender breasts, achy or sore joints, itchy skin, weight gain, depression, thinning hair, hair growth in undesirable areas, tingling in the hands or feet, ringing in the ears, chronic indigestion, headaches, and more.
Also, once menopause occurs, women need to watch out for osteoporosis in the years following. Low hormone levels accelerate bone loss and it’s important to be proactive about maintaining healthy bone density. Heart disease is another symptom that can creep up in post-menopausal women. Regular medical checkups are crucial to help prevent both osteoporosis and heart problems.
While it’s important to know and understand menopausal symptoms, you don’t have to endure them in silence. Enlist the help of your physician and talk to friends or family about your experiences. In this way, you can approach menopause armed with information and reduce bothersome symptoms that might otherwise interfere with your life. There are many treatments out there that can really improve any symptoms you may have.