Understanding the Most Common Symptoms of Menopause
by Jewelbox Team
We’re sure you know by now (which is why you’re here!) that when women reach a certain age (typically the mid-to-late 40s, but perimenopause can begin as early as the mid-30s naturally and can be medically induced at any age), our bodies undergo a host of changes, all housed under the general umbrella of “menopause.” From dry hair and weight gain to hot flashes and mood changes, perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms run the gamut from mildly annoying to extreme. While the menopausal transition will be different for all women, there are a handful of symptoms of menopause that seem to occur most frequently.
What Is Menopause?
Before we talk about the symptoms of menopause, it’s important to make sure that we’re all on the same page about what exactly we mean when we say the word. While most people use the term “menopause” to describe the entire transition women go through as they reach the end of their reproductive years, there are actually multiple stages to the process. Menopause technically refers specifically to the 12 months following a woman’s last period, but when we talk about the symptoms of menopause, we’re also generally referring not just to this one-year segment of time but also to the stage known as “perimenopause.”
Perimenopause means “around menopause” and the stage in life directly before menopause. For some women, perimenopause can be brief (just a few months), while others stay in this phase for the better part of a decade (yes, it can be that long). The average length of perimenopause, however, is four years. During this time, your body is transitioning toward menopause and beginning to produce less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
For the purposes of this article, when we talk about the symptoms of “menopause,” we’re referring to symptoms commonly experienced during both menopause itself and during perimenopause.
What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Menopause?
While the experience of going through menopause won’t be exactly the same for any two women, there are some symptoms that most women will experience — to varying degrees. Some of the most common symptoms of menopause include:
● Hot flashes
● Vaginal dryness
● Sleep problems
● Weight gain
● Dry skin
● Mood changes
● Thinning hair
● Bladder control issues
Let’s talk about what you can expect if you experience some of these common menopausal symptoms.
During a hot flash, you’ll typically experience a sudden feeling of heat, usually in the face, neck, and chest, often accompanied by sweating. Hot flashes can happen anytime and when they happen at night, they’re called “night sweats.” Like everything else they’re experienced uniquely by each woman.
Other symptoms associated with hot flashes include:
● Red, blotchy skin
● Rapid heartbeat
● Perspiration (mostly on your upper body)
● Chills as the hot flash ends
● Feelings of anxiety
Vaginal dryness is a common symptom that may begin in perimenopause and something that many women continue to experience after menopause. As if the mere description of it weren’t shudder-inducing enough, vaginal dryness is also known by several other intimidating medical names, including genitourinary syndrome of menopause, atrophic vaginitis, and vaginal atrophy. It’s a very natural effect of the decreasing estrogen levels during menopause, which makes the vaginal tissue thinner and more easily irritated. It can also lead to dyspareunia (the medical term for painful intercourse).
Luckily vaginal dryness is a treatable symptom of menopause and can be managed with vaginal moisturizers, vaginal lubricants, and/or low-dose estrogen treatments in the form of a cream, tablet, or ring, testosterone cream, among other treatment options you can discuss with your doctor. And, when it comes to natural remedies to reduce the effect of vaginal dryness, regular vaginal stimulation (with a partner or solo) helps keep vaginal tissue healthy into menopause and beyond.
Women in menopause are more likely to complain of a variety of sleep issues, including difficulty falling asleep, frequent wake-ups, and/or early (too early!) morning awakening aka insomnia, sleep-disordered breathing (most commonly obstructive sleep apnea OSA), and restless leg disorder RLS. Talk to your doctor if you experience sleep-related symptoms during menopause to discuss treatment options specific to each one.
During menopause, many women experience a slowing of their metabolism and, as a result, weight gain. There are several theories about why this might occur, but many come back to the fluctuating levels of estrogen production during this time. Higher levels of estrogen are associated with more body fat before menopause, so when more estrogen is released as levels fluctuate during perimenopause, it could contribute to weight gain. Meanwhile lower levels of estrogen later in perimenopause and menopause could affect the function of leptin and neuropeptide Y, two hormones responsible for controlling feelings of fullness and appetite, prompting women to eat more.
Many women notice that their skin and hair become drier during menopause like, a lot drier. This is because, during menopause, women’s hair and skin lose their ability to hold water, making it even more important than ever to drink plenty of water and maintain a good moisturizing routine. On top of this, declining estrogen levels during menopause also accelerate the loss of collagen and elastin, two proteins that are vital in keeping skin plump and firm.
It’s not uncommon for women to experience changes to mood during menopause. Many women notice increased moodiness and irritability during the menopausal transition, while some also experience more severe mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, and panic disorders, related to menopause. Women with a history of depression, anxiety, premenstrual mood sensitivity and post-partum depression are at higher risk. Current research suggests that women who have struggled with anxiety-related issues or suffered from postpartum depression in the past may be more likely to develop a panic disorder during menopause, though it’s important to note this is extremely uncommon.
One of the more jarring changes that can occur during menopause involves our hair. Specifically, some women notice their hair thinning or falling out during menopause. Most experts believe this could be a result of hormonal changes. As levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease, the effect of male hormones (known as androgens) increase, leading to side effects like thinning hair that are more commonly associated with men. During and after menopause, many women’s hair follicles shrink, causing hair to grow more slowly and fall out more easily, both of which contribute to an over thinner appearance to the hair.
Bladder control issues
During menopause, some women find that they’re more prone to experiencing bladder infections, while others experience some degree of incontinence, or loss of bladder control. Lower levels of estrogen can cause pelvic muscles to weaken, making it hard to control urination. This symptom, in particular, is often more prominent in postmenopausal women and can become more of an issue the older a woman gets.
The information provided on StateOf and On Pause is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, treatment, or diagnosis. Always seek the guidance of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns regarding your health.