Published: May 28, 2014
Every woman is unique and that’s certainly no surprise. But the path to menopause certainly reveals just how different we are from one another. Some women sail through menopause, experiencing very few physical and emotional symptoms, while others experience disconcerting symptoms that may last for extended periods of time and they can range in severity. Often women develop these symptoms when they experience perimenopause. And, some women even have symptoms into their postmenopausal years.
It’s important for you to recognize the symptoms associated with menopause and discuss those that are affecting you with your clinician. Don’t always assume they are a result of menopause. Your clinician may want to check out other possible causes.
Common Menopause Symptoms
- Irregular periods
- Hot Flashes
- Night sweats
- Loss of libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings, anxiety
- Sleep disturbances
- Memory lapses
- Weight gain
- Joint pain
More Details about Menopausal Symptoms
Irregular periods – Changes in menstrual flow, inconsistency and frequency are the hallmarks of menopause. This happens during the perimenopause transition. Some women have lighter or heavier bleeding, shorter or longer menstrual cycles, and skipped menstrual periods.
Any changes in menstrual periods should be discussed with your clinician.
Your clinician should talk to you about treatment options.
Hot Flashes, Night Sweats– Are the most common symptoms of menopause affecting about 75% to 85% or women. Night sweats are merely hot flashes that occur during your sleep. This may cause an interference with your sleep and create feelings of irritability and fatigue. They feel like a sudden, transient sensation of warmth that creates flushing or redness to your face and chest.
Oftentimes hot flashes are accompanied by increased heart rate (palpitations); and are followed by chills. Hot flashes and night sweats can be more severe and may start immediately after surgical menopause.
The causes of hot flash results from lowered levels of estrogen levels. Some factors that can trigger a hot flash include: hot spicy foods, hot beverages, alcohol, caffeine and stress. There is a higher incidence of hot flashes if you smoke. There’s no predicting how long hot flashes will last. Some women have them for 3-5 years, while others continue to have hot flashes long past menopause.
Some tips for managing hot flashes: Watch your diet – limit alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods. Stop smoking (nicotine increases hot flashes); stay cool by wearing layered clothing or natural fibers; use a fan; exercise which improves circulation, raises endorphin levels and helps to promote better sleep; reduce stress levels; talk to your clinician and discuss treatment options for moderate to severe hot flashes if they are affecting your quality of life.
Consider a combination of several options that can most likely provide the greatest symptom relief, including a healthy diet and exercise, managing stress and any other recommendations your clinician provides.
Loss of libido – The menopause time is a time of transformation. Decreased sex drive is a problem for many menopausal women. Lowered libido can be traced to hormonal imbalances and may result from testosterone levels being too low. It can also be caused by other menopausal symptoms such as vaginal dryness, sleep changes, fatigue, irritability or depression. It’s a time when women should assess the nature of their relationships with their spouses or partner when sexual issues are concerned.
Lack of arousal may also be due to taking certain medications, i.e., blood pressure medications, antidepressant therapies; or if any nerve damage that has occurred due to surgery in the vaginal area, i.e., hysterectomy. It may also be due to having heart disease or diabetes. Continuing sexuality activity is important. The adage “use it or lose it” principle should apply as regular intercourse helps improve vaginal blood supply and lubrication. Kegel exercise is also helpful as they help tighten the pelvic floor muscles. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, diuretics and antihistamines as they are dehydrating. Talk to your clinician about non-prescription options and prescribed medications options. You might need to try a variety of options or combinations to get results.
Vaginal dryness – Women during and after the menopause transition experience vaginal changes due to a sudden drop in estrogen. Women who have experienced menopause due to surgery, chemotherapy, or drug therapy, may have very problematic vaginal dryness issues. Most likely vaginal dryness is the result of lowered estrogen levels.
Lowered estrogen levels cause thinning of the vaginal lining. The vagina loses its elasticity, its blood flow and lubrication is reduced. The vagina may also become narrower, fragile and it may become more irritable. This leads to a condition called vaginal atrophy. The acidity in the vagina also decreases, which raises the likelihood of developing more infections.
Unlike hot flashes that eventually go away after time, vaginal changes gradually progress and don’t go away on their own. A vagina that is dry and unlubricated can definitely be a deterrent to sexual enjoyment. It may decrease a woman’s interest in having more sex. Some women are reluctant to talk to their clinicians about vaginal dryness. However, it is important to talk to your doctor about this distressing menopausal symptom and discuss treatments for this condition.
Mood swings and anxiety – Many women report symptoms of irritability, frequent crying, and mood swings. Low levels of estrogen are associated with lower levels of serotonin, which can lead to mood swings, irritability, anxiety and even insomnia.
Hormonal fluctuations can certainly increase our likelihood of getting mood swings, but they may occur also due to other medical conditions (hypothyroidism) or other factors that create stress in our lives (i.e.: conflicts in relationships, divorce, widowhood, caring for aging parents, overwork, empty nest experience, grief, etc.).
Mood swings and irritability can result from sleep deprivation that hot flashes cause and may contribute to mood swings from lower levels of estrogen.
Helpful things to do are:
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises
- Get a massage, do yoga, walk more and exercise. Exercise improves our moods.
- Eat healthily and avoid alcohol because it is a depressant.
- Keep a sense of humor, which lightens your mood.
- Talk to your clinician about treatment options.
- Review all your options and determine which is right for you. You may have to try a variety of options, or combination of options for symptom relief.
Sleep disturbances and fatigue – Sleep problems increases dramatically during the menopause transition. Hot flashes, urinary frequency, and anxiety may cause interrupted sleep at night. It may cause you to feel tired and fatigued the next day if you did not get a restful sleep. Lack of exercise and unmanaged stress can also cause sleep problems.
Sleep disturbance can affect your quality of life and health. It may cause all kinds of physical, mental and emotional health issues, i.e., fatigue, inability to concentrate, increases irritability, anxiety, and depression.
Talk to your clinician if you are experiencing sleep problems.
Some other tips to contribute to better sleep:
- Make sure you have a set (regular bedtime and wake up time schedule)
- Exercise early in the day (outdoor exercise provides exposure to sunlight and it will boost your serotonin levels)
- Decrease caffeine and alcohol consumption; don’t smoke
- Keep bedroom dark and cool and use bedroom for sleep and sexual activity only
- Practice relaxation techniques; listen to calming music
- If you find you cannot sleep, get out of bed and read.
- Talk to your clinician about non-prescription options and prescription options to finding symptom relief.
Memory lapses – Memory loss or fuzzy thinking are common problems and seem to elevate during the menopause transition.
Suddenly you find yourself forgetting where you put your keys, losing your car in parking lots, and having a tough time remembering names. Memory lapses may be associated with low levels of estrogen and with higher levels of stress that we have at menopause. It may also be caused by sleep deprivation due to interrupted sleep.
It is wise to talk to your clinician about ways to resolve your memory problems. Sometimes, hormone therapy may be of some help. You can also keep your memory sharp by seeking mental stimulation engaging in activities that challenge you mentally, i.e., learning a new language.
Maintain good health by exercising which increases blood flow to the brain. Talk to your clinician about non-prescription options and prescribed options.
Review all your choices for finding symptom relief.
Headaches – Hormonal fluctuations may play a role in causing headaches.
During perimenopause headaches seem to increase in frequency and intensity.
You should seek medical help if the frequency or intensity of headaches is interfering with your quality of life.
It’s important to keep a diary of headaches and share this with your clinician. This may be helpful in identifying individual triggers. Some triggers include: alcohol; foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG) or nitrite preservatives (hot dogs); inadequate water intake; allergies; emotional changes (stress, anger); not getting enough sleep; hypothyroidism and low adrenal function, as well as from an array of others things. Massage, practicing meditation and relaxation, and maintaining good relationships with your loved ones is also important to lessen headaches.
Your clinician should provide you with information about non-prescription and prescription options for the different types of headaches that women typically get. Review all these options and choose one that fits your needs.
Weight gain – Women are more prone to gain weight at menopause. In the US, approximately 65% of women ages 45 to 55 are overweight.
70% of women ages 55 to 75 are considered overweight.
Women are more prone to gain weight during the menopause transition averaging about a 5 lb weight gain.
As estrogen lowers, we develop a slower metabolic rate. Women notice changes to their body composition and fat distribution. There may be an increase in fat in the abdominal region and a decrease in lean body mass. Lack of estrogen also increases fat storage which makes it even more difficult to lose weight.
There is some evidence suggests that estrogen hormone therapy increases a woman’s resting metabolic rate supporting a slight benefit in not gaining weight. There are risks associated with weight gain which include high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. That’s why it is important to lose weight and exercise to help keep off the extra weight.
Not all of the weight gain should be attributed to menopause. It may also be associated with aging. In fact, we lose muscle mass as we age which decreases our resting metabolism. This causes us to gain weight.
Many women simply don’t get enough exercise each day, particularly, aerobic exercise that is necessary to lose weight. Management of weight gain is essential which should include eating a healthy diet and increasing physical activity to avoid further weight gain.
Aching Body and Joint Pain – A common symptom at menopause includes body aches, stiffness and joint pain. It is unclear how hormones, particularly estrogen, affect joints, most but it is a major fact that estrogen (specifically a diminished level of estrogen) plays a major role in joint pain during menopause.
Treatment with hormone therapy does provide some relief from body pain. In the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) 25% of the women treated with estrogen and progestin showed improvement in general aches and pains and a 43% reduction in joint pain and stiffness.*
There are ways to keep joints health which includes: losing excess weight, exercising daily for 30 to 60 minutes (warming up and stretching first) and eating a healthy diet to include vegetables which are high in antioxidants.
Talk to your clinician about the use of glucosamine which sometimes helps joints.
*(resource Barnabei, et al)
For more details about various symptoms, review these sites: