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Menopause Symptoms: Signs And What To Expect

What Is Menopause?

Every woman will go through menopause at some point in her life. It’s a natural progression that brings about many changes to the body. Menopause is actually just one point in time and is defined as the 12-month marker after a woman has her last period.

Throughout her childbearing years, a woman’s body produces estrogen and progesterone from the ovaries, which aid in reproductive health. As women get older and closer to menopause, their hormone levels begin to fluctuate and decrease. While menopause is defined as one point in time, the ovaries do not stop producing progesterone and estrogen all at once. It is a slow process that can last several years.

Stages Of Menopause.

There are three stages of menopause:

  • Perimenopause is defined as the years leading up to menopause where a woman begins to experience menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, or bladder leaks.

  • Menopause. A woman has officially reached menopause when she has gone 12 months without a period.

  • Post Menopause. After a woman has reached menopause, her body is still adjusting to changes, although many of her original menopause symptoms should begin to ease over time.

Some women experience early menopause, which is when they start exhibiting menopause symptoms before the age of 40. This may be genetic (many women tend to start menopause around the same time as your mom or grandmother did), or it could be due to other health conditions or medical treatments, such as undergoing chemotherapy or a hysterectomy.

Signs of early menopause include all the typical menopause symptoms a woman experiences, including irregular periods hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, or urinary incontinence. (See the full list below.)

When Does Menopause Start?

Menopause is typically experienced between the ages of 40 and 58, but most women will start experiencing the symptoms of perimenopause in her late 40s or early 50s. In rare cases, women may experience symptoms in their 30s or younger.  The average age of menopause for women in the US is 51.

How Long Does Menopause Last?

It’s different for everyone, but most women start to experience pre-menopause symptoms around the age of 45. The average age for menopause is 51, and post-menopause can last several years after your last period (2-7 years after menopause).

The 34 Symptoms Of Menopause

It has been said that there are roughly 34 symptoms of menopause. Many you’ve likely heard of (hot flashes, night sweats, irregular periods), but some of these may be new to you. If you’re experiencing any of the following, and are over 45, you may be experiencing perimenopause symptoms:

  • Irregular Periods. This is one of the first signs that you may be entering into perimenopause and is caused by a drop in hormone levels. Your periods may start to stretch longer, be heavier some months, lighter the next, or you may skip periods altogether.

  • Vaginal Dryness. As your estrogen levels decrease, it can reduce the lubrication that’s naturally found in the vagina. This can be uncomfortable, causing itchiness, dryness, and even pain during sex.

  • Hot Flashes. When the hormones responsible for controlling body temperature run low, you may experience hot flashes. These can come on suddenly and can contribute to night sweats. You may also notice that your neck and face become red.

  • Night Sweats. These are basically hot flashes at night, that cause you to sweat. Lifestyle changes may help you deal with night sweats.

  • Difficulty Sleeping. Many women report finding it difficult to sleep during perimenopause. This is often a result of other symptoms, such as night sweats or anxiety, which can keep you up at night.

  • Fatigue. Changes in hormones and problems sleeping can cause you to feel extremely tired.

  • Mood Swings. Many women experience irritability, sadness, or lower energy as a result of fluctuating hormones and lack of sleep. These may feel similar to what you experience during PMS, but are typically more severe.

  • Bloating. An early sign of menopause, bloating is typically caused by water or gas retention and is a result of fluctuating estrogen levels and/or a change in your digestive tract.

  • Sore Breasts. Just like pregnancy, the rise and fall of hormones during menopause can result in sore and tender breasts.

  • Weight Gain. Hormonal changes, along with aging, genetics, and lifestyle behavior can cause weight gain in some women during perimenopause.

  • Changes In Libido. Hormonal changes can cause a woman’s libido to decrease (or sometimes increase!) during menopause. A decreased libido is often due to lowered estrogen and testosterone levels and can make it harder for a woman to feel aroused.  Additionally, vaginal dryness, as we spoke about earlier, can sometimes make sex painful, making women less interested in intercourse.

  • Headaches. A drop in estrogen can cause headaches or migraines for some women during menopause.

  • Pain In Joints. Estrogen helps to reduce inflammation. When estrogen levels drop during menopause, it may cause you to notice more pain in your joints, such as your knees, wrists, and elbows.

  • Electric Shocks. Electric shocks during menopause are attributed to hormone imbalances – fluctuating estrogen levels on the cardiovascular and nervous systems. They can be uncomfortable but generally aren’t cause for concern.

  • Burning Mouth Syndrome. A drop in estrogen levels causes this symptom of menopause. Estrogen typically helps produce saliva. When estrogen is low, it can cause the mouth to become dry and may trigger a burning sensation.

  • Problems With Gums. Low estrogen levels cause you to produce less saliva, leaving your mouth dry and making your gums more prone to gum disease and gingivitis.

  • Digestive Issues. Lowered hormone levels can disrupt your gut, leading to excess gas, indigestion, bloating, and constipation.

  • Dry And Itchy Skin. Estrogen is responsible for forming collagen and oils and for retaining moisture. When estrogen levels decrease, your skin can become dry and itchy.

  • Anxiety. Fluctuating hormones, in addition to some of the other life-disrupting symptoms of menopause, can cause an increase in anxiety among some menopausal women.

  • Tingling Sensations In Extremities. A “pins and needles” feeling, burning sensation, or numbness can occur in women during menopause. This may be felt in any part of the body, but is most prevalent in the hands and feet.

  • Difficulties In Concentration. Brain fog during menopause is a real thing, causing forgetfulness, poor memory, and difficulty concentrating.

  • Dizziness. Dizziness is common during menopause and may be due to changing hormones and a result of some of the other symptoms of menopause, like fatigue and hot flashes.

  • Loss Of Hair. Lower levels of estrogen and progesterone can contribute to losing hair and hair becoming thinner and finer.

  • Memory Lapse. Mild memory problems are common during menopause and again, a decrease in estrogen and progesterone levels is to blame.

  • Brittle Nails. You may not tie your brittle nails to menopause, but fluctuating hormones and dehydration can cause the keratin layer of your nails to weaken, causing them to chip or split.

  • Tight  Muscles. With all the symptoms of menopause we’ve listed so far, it’s not surprising that you might feel feelings of stress through it all, which can lead to tense muscles.

  • Stress Incontinence. With the drop in estrogen, the vaginal tissues become thinner and less elastic, making you more prone to bladder leaks, especially when stress is placed on the bladder due to things like sneezing, laughing, or coughing.

  • Change In Body Odor. Changes in digestion, temperature regulation, and dehydration can all contribute to a change in body odor during your menopausal years.

  • Irritability. Fluctuating hormones during perimenopause, combined with the many symptoms you may be experiencing can cause you to have extreme mood swings, even rage.

  • Allergies. As with so many other symptoms of menopause, fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone are to blame for an increase or new appearance of allergies.

  • Depression. Your ever-changing hormones increased stress levels, perceived body image, aging and even the thought of no longer being fertile can cause some women to become depressed during their menopause years.

  • Irregular Heartbeat. Many women experience heart palpitations, which feel like a fluttering or pounding of the heart.  This can often occur during a hot flash.

  • Panic Disorder. Many women may start to experience panic attacks during menopause, characterized by dry mouth, hyperventilating, sweating, chills, a pounding heart, trembling, paralyzing fear, and even nausea. Panic attacks may be in part caused by some of the physical symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes, which can be embarrassing to some women especially if they experience them in public.

  • Osteoporosis. Lower levels of estrogen can cause loss of bone mass. While we naturally lose bone mass as we age, If bone mass gets low enough, a woman may develop osteoporosis.

Treatment Is Available.

If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of menopause, talk to your doctor. While many women experience mild, short-term symptoms, many also find the symptoms disruptive to their day-to-day activities which have a big impact on their quality of life.  Luckily, there are treatments that can help you get through this phase of life.

Your doctor may suggest various lifestyle changes, hormone therapy, or antidepressants to treat some of your symptoms. There are also medications that have been used to treat hot flashes and preventative measures that can be used for women who are at a higher risk for osteoporosis.

While the symptoms of menopause can be challenging, many women notice that greatly decrease or go away in the years following their last period. You may also feel a sort of freedom once they have gone through menopause, as they no longer have to worry about a monthly period, or PMS symptoms, and can enjoy sex without the worry of getting pregnant.

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