There are a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms of menopause which vary from one person to the next. Menopause symptoms will usually last between two and five years before disappearing, although they can last longer.
Common symptoms of menopause
Changes in the menstrual cycle is the first of the menopause symptoms. Menopause occurs when periods stop. However, it is rare that the monthly menstrual bleed ceases suddenly. Most commonly, the menstrual cycle becomes irregular with a tendency towards heavy, prolonged or painful periods. This usually marks the start of the first stage of the menopause which is known as the perimenopause.
Hot flushes are the most common symptoms of menopause. They are experienced by over 75% of women. The problem arises as changes in hormone levels upset the temperature regulating part of the brain.
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Night sweats are hot flushes that occur at night. They can be very disruptive affecting sleep. You may find that a lack of sleep makes you irritable and that you have problems with your short-term memory and ability to concentrate.
Low mood, irritability and anxiety. Decreasing levels of hormones during the menopause can affect the way the brain functions and women may experience the symptom of mood swings or low mood during the menopause. These symptoms are probably more common than we realise, and very occasionally, changes in hormones can even lead to depression.
Anxiety and irritability can also be part of the menopause. Some women find these symptoms similar in nature to pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and cope with them as such.
Weight Gain. Getting older often goes in tandem with a natural reduction in physical activity – so the menopause will not be the only reason for weight gain. Having said that, changes in hormone levels do influence body weight, although the way it does this is not always consistent. In general, women tend to gain weight during the menopause. Use this information to prepare yourself – exercise more and watch what you eat.
Muscle and joint pain. Another physical symptom of the menopause experienced by many women is muscle and joint pain. Studies have shown that 50% of post-menopausal women experience joint pain. The most commonly affected areas of the body are the neck, shoulders, elbows and hands.
Hormones play an important role in a woman’s joint health and fluctuating oestrogen levels during the menopause. This can have an impact on how your muscles and joints behave. If you experience symptoms of joint or muscle pain and stiffness, there are a number of ways you can help yourself naturally. Changing your diet can have a positive effect on these symptoms of menopause. Stay away from sugar and increase your intake of vitamin C.
Vaginal symptoms of menopause. During the lead up to the menopause, you may experience vaginal dryness, itching or discomfort. This can make sex difficult or painful (dyspareunia). These symptoms combined are known as vaginal atrophy.
About a third of women experience vaginal atrophy shortly after the menopause, with slightly more women having them later on. In some cases, vaginal atrophy can last for more than 10 years after your final period.
If you have vaginal symptoms, it’s likely they will continue or get worse unless they are treated.
Urinary symptoms. During the menopause, you’re more likely to have recurring lower UTIs, such as cystitis. You may also feel an urgent and frequent need to go to the toilet.
Other embarrassing body changes. Change in hormones during the menopause not only affects the regularity of the menstrual cycle. They can also cause breast pain or tenderness. This arises because the female hormones get thrown out of balance and is usually seen at around the time of ovulation or menstruation.
In addition, lower oestrogen levels, together with a decrease in testosterone during this time of life, can lead to a reduction in libido or sexual drive. This may be made worse as a result of vaginal dryness which arises because of a reduction in oestrogen, blood flow and lubrication.