Puberty marks one of the major transformations in a girl’s life, both physically and psychologically. So does menopause. No, it isn’t as scary as one projects it. Just that you need to care for yourself a little more than before. Each woman varies from the other in their menopausal experience. For some, it may be a roller coaster ride, whereas, for a few, menopause may not have been as troublesome as it is deemed.
If you felt hot flash was the sole symptom of menopause, you were mistaken. True that 80% of women experience hot flashes when transitioning into menopause. But that isn’t the only symptom. There’s a lot more to it. If I were to tell you my story, the irregular periods that started in my mid-40s were the first warning signs that I was in the transition phase. Then came the hot flashes, and it continued. You may have a different menopause story to tell. Right?
If you are nearing your 40s, you must be pretty anxious about menopause, primarily if you’ve heard people around you speaking a lot about the same. There may be a lot of questions in your mind. What are the first symptoms of menopause? At what age will I experience menopausal symptoms? And the queries go on endlessly. Here, I have tried my utmost to answer your queries as much as possible. I have included topics like what the signs of menopause are and how you manage them. I hope this will be of help to you.
14 Signs and Symptoms of Menopause
As I have always said, no two women will have similar symptoms. For instance, your mother may have had significant sleep issues, while for you, it is the hot flashes that are turning out to become a menace. If you are wondering when you will experience the symptoms, it would mostly be in your early 40s. However, it could be sooner or later. A friend of mine experienced the symptoms in her 30s.
Whereas, for my sister, irregular periods and hot flashes started after her 50th birthday. She went through menopause two years after that. It is no unknown fact that the low hormone levels – estrogen and progesterone are responsible for most of the symptoms you experience in menopause. Let’s look at some symptoms most women will likely face during menopause.
1. Hot Flashes
Everyone is familiar with hot flashes, as that is what comes to mind at the mention of menopause. As I said above, it affects around 80% of women. It is most likely to begin in perimenopause when you are in your 40s. That’s the mean age.
I experienced my first hot flash in my early 40s when at work. The feeling isn’t a nice one, though. A sudden warmth first spread across my face, neck, and chest. Some could even have a flushed appearance, like they were blushing. That happened to my sister. Her face turned red like an apple each time she had the flashes.
Accompanying these are other signs as well. These include an increased heartbeat and intense perspiration. Hot flashes last one or two minutes or prolong to about five minutes. The intensity also varies from mild to severe to the extent that it comes in the way of your activities of daily living. You could get hot flashes during the day or even at night. The one happening during bedtime will come in the way of a good night’s sleep.
Starting from the perimenopause to postmenopause stages, most women have hot flashes for seven long years. In some, it could extend up to 11 years as well.
2. Night Sweats
The declining hormone levels are responsible for night sweats. This is because the hypothalamus, or that part of your brain that maintains your body temperature, cannot function effectively. In most cases, night sweats result from hot flashes when the body tries to cool itself after it has been heated.
Night sweats during menopause often drench your clothes and bedsheets, coming in the way of a peaceful night’s sleep. Hot flashes can happen at any time of the day. But when they occur at night, they are known as night sweats. If you’ve had night sweats, you’ll understand how uncomfortable it feels when your clothes and bedding are completely drenched.
Remember, night sweats aren’t only due to menopause. It could hint at any underlying conditions. These may include cancer, bacterial infections, viral infections, hormonal diseases, and neurological disorders. So, if this is recurrent, do not pass it off as a menopausal sign. Seek medical help at the earliest.
3. Vaginal Dryness
Low estrogen levels cause your vaginal tissues to become less elastic and less lubricant. This leads to dryness, inflammation, and irritation. This could lead to urinary incontinence and make your sexual life all the more painful. The incidence of vaginal dryness that starts in perimenopause intensifies during the postmenopause phase. So, do not leave it untreated. If it aggravates, it could be highly discomforting.
4. Troubled Sleeping
With hot flashes and night sweats bothering you most of the time, your sleep could get disrupted. An episode of hot flashes could be exhaustive at times, making it difficult for you to fall back to sleep again. Recurrent sleep problems often lead to insomnia. Around 39-47% of women go through sleep disturbances during the perimenopause phase. This shoots up to 35-60% in postmenopause. I, too, had my struggle with insomnia. Relaxation techniques and yoga came to my rescue.
5. Mood Swings
Everything seems connected. When you aren’t in the best of your health and cannot sleep well, you are bound to be irritable. Moreover, there’s also some science behind the same. Low estrogen levels are also to be blamed for your changing mood.
The chemical serotonin and neurotransmitter norepinephrine play a significant role in impacting our mood. When the estrogen levels during menopause, it reduces serotonin activity, leading to frequent mood swings. The NAMS (North American Menopause Society) states that about 23% of women in the perimenopausal and postmenopausal phases experience mood swings.
6. Weight Gain
Hormonal changes could add extra calories to the region surrounding your thighs, hips, and abdomen. Reduced estrogen also means lessened muscle mass. This slows down your metabolism. The outcome is weight gain. You’ll be at greater risk if you aren’t cautious about exercising and maintaining a healthy diet. I, too, had started adding on the extra pounds in my mid-40s until I learned to follow a proper exercise regime.
7. Sore Breasts
The erratic rise and fall in hormone levels may lead to sore and painful breasts during menopause. Women could feel a burning, stabbing, throbbing, or sharp pain in either one or both of their breasts. Besides the pain, your breast may even appear soft and tender because of the changing hormone levels.
8. Hair Thinning
Low levels of estrogen and progesterone means an increased impact of androgens, which are mainly considered male hormones. When ovaries produce an increased amount of testosterone, then the androgens are overproduced. This leads to hair growth in unwanted areas like your face. At the same time, hormonal imbalances also cause the hair follicles to shrink. This results in thin hair and more hair fall.
9. Dry Skin
The low estrogen levels make the skin lose its capacity to retain water and become dry. Low estrogen levels mean low production of collagen, and oil making the screen dry and itchy.
Studies reveal that around 30% of collagen is lost in the initial years of menopause, mainly the first five years. Then there is a 2% loss in collagen each year for the remaining 20 years to follow. Menopausal women will notice dried skin around their elbows.
Next is the T-zone, including the nose, chin, and forehead, where the skin will also appear dry. However, dried patches could also be seen in other areas, like genitals, arms, back, and legs.
10. Dry Mouth
Some women can go through a dry mouth during menopause. The reason for this is low estrogen level. Reduced estrogen means low saliva flow in some women. This may lead to a dry mouth, inflamed gums, and also altered taste levels.
11. Bone Loss
The prime reason for bone loss in menopause is again attributed to low hormone levels. As per estimations, around 10% of bone mass is lost by women in the initial 5 years of the postmenopause phase. This puts menopausal women at an increased risk of osteoporosis. The bones become less dense and thin and are highly susceptible to fracture.
12. Alteration in Cholesterol Levels
Estrogen plays a significant role in keeping cholesterol levels low. So, when your estrogen levels are low, the cholesterol levels might shoot up. This would happen even more if you aren’t careful about your health and lead a reckless life.
13. Forgetfulness and Lack of Concentration
Poor memory, concentration problems, and forgetfulness start in perimenopause. In most cases, it continues up to menopause. Such a troubled state seen in women is also known as brain fog.
Estrogen is responsible for the proper functioning of our brain, particularly our mood, attention span, memorizing capacity, and language skills. So low hormone levels hurt your memory, making you more forgetful and restless. Brain fog is seen in around 60% of perimenopausal and menopausal women. I too, had my share of concentration issues and mood swings, which took me effort to manage and overcome.
14. Irregular Periods
One of the earliest signs that you have entered into the menopause transition phase is your irregular periods. The same happened to me. You may notice that your menstrual cycle lacks consistency. You might skip one or two cycles, while your periods may occur too close to one another. If your menstrual cycle happens seven days early or late persistently, then that means early perimenopause has started.
If there’s a gap between two months or more than that between your menses, then it is a sign of late perimenopause. However, in your menopause, periods will stop completely.
These are just a handful of symptoms I mentioned. The list is endless. There are many less common signs like pin-and-needle sensation in the body, dental issues, burning mouth and tongue, etc.
How to Manage Symptoms of Menopause?
Most of the symptoms in the menopausal transition phase will carry up to menopause as well. However, this varies from one woman to the other. In some, the symptoms could ease and stop eventually or be present in the mildest form. Your overall well-being also depends on how much you take care of yourself and your health.
1. For Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
- Find out the triggers that aggravate your hot flashes. It could be your increased alcohol or caffeine intake. The episode may occur each time you smoke or eat something too spicy. The flashes are a repercussion of a stressful situation. For me, spicy foods served as a trigger. Once I let go of it, I began to feel better.
- If you get hot flashes mostly at night, then a glass of cold water before bedtime could make you feel better. That’s what the doctor asked my sister to do to manage her nighttime hot flashes.
- Be it at work or home, make sure you go for breathable and lightweight fabrics. It will make you feel better.
- To cope with hot flashes when it is cold, layered clothing would be ideal. The layers will help you remain warm when it is cold. Whereas, if you have a hot flash, shedding the top layers will give you relief.
- Keeping a fan by your bedside will also help you provide intense relief from hot flashes.
- During an episode of hot flashes, deep breaths would benefit to a great extent. First, breathe in, and then breathe out. Make sure that the time you take to breathe out is as long as the time you take to breathe in. Repeat as many times as possible to feel calm and relaxed.
- Obese women are more prone to hot flashes. So, maintaining a healthy diet and proper exercise will help you lose weight.
- If hot flashes are tormenting you, you could consult a doctor, as medicines might help you feel better. Many doctors prescribe gabapentin for hot flashes to lessen their intensity and severity.
2. For Vaginal Problems
Vaginal dryness often leads to pain, irritation, and inflammation around the vagina. It could also lead to urinary incontinence; here are some tips:
- An over-the-counter vaginal lubricant or vaginal moisturizer will help to lubricate your vagina. In this way, you could relieve yourself from the pain and irritation. This will even prevent you from facing discomfort during sex.
- You could even seek a healthcare provider’s assistance if you have an increased incidence of vaginal dryness.
3. For Memory Issues
When you have memory problems, it could be suffocating indeed. Maintaining a proper way of life will help you feel better. Read on to learn all that you can do to improve your memory and concentration.
- You should sleep well at night and also eat a healthy diet. Also, avoid smoking, and cut down on alcohol content. This will help to improve your memory and concentration.
- It would be best if you stay mentally and socially active. Engage yourself in solving puzzles and doing other stuff that may positively affect your memory.
- Reduce screen time and eliminate distractions that could trigger forgetfulness.
- If your forgetfulness is coming in the way of your daily living, you should talk to the doctor as soon as possible.
4. For Dry Skin
When you have dry skin, there are certain things that you can do to prevent the same:
- Use a mild cleanser to wash your skin, not soap.
- Moisturize your skin after a bath and also during other times of the day if it is dried.
- Consult a dermatologist if you find that your skin isn’t improving at all.
5. For Anxiety and Mood Swings
To cope with anxiety and mood swings, here are a few things that you can try at home:
- Make sure you sleep for at least 7-8 hours each night uninterruptedly.
- Please find out the triggers that are adding to your worries and try to address them the same.
- Avoid doing any heavy work or exerting yourself too much before bedtime.
- If you have your hands complete, try to organize things well so that they do not add to your stress.
- True that menopause is taxing. The physical and psychological changes might be too much to handle. Remember, you aren’t alone in this journey. Other women are sailing on the same boat as well. Get in touch with such online support groups or communities. When you have like-minded people around, you may feel at ease.
6. For Hair Problems
A lot of hair fall in menopause is an annoying thing indeed. Here is all that you can do to maintain healthy hair.
- Maintaining a healthy diet of fruits, whole grains, and vegetables would help in maintaining good hair. If you’ve had severe hair loss, then you could drink green tea. You can even consider taking folic acid and Vitamin B 6 supplements. This may help your lost hair grow back soon.
- Water plays a significant role in contributing to good hair growth by keeping the roots of the hair active. It even helps to maintain a healthy scalp, prevents the formation of split ends, and reduces the chances of the hair attaining a brittle texture. So drink sufficient water, and even cut out on fluids like juices and beverages that are high in sugar.
- Exercise well, and even keep yourself stress-free. This will keep you physically fit and even foster good hair growth. Exercise allows more blood to flow into the scalp, supplying sufficient oxygen and nutrients. This helps in nourishing hair roots and contributes to healthy hair growth.
In the United States, the average age for menopause is 51 years. The transition phase, the period around menopause, begins when a woman is 40-44 years of age. It lasts for 4-5 years on average but can end early or late too.
In menopause, the ovary doesn’t release eggs anymore. It also stops producing the two primary hormones controlling a woman’s reproductive health – estrogen and progesterone. No ovulation means no menstrual cycle. With menopause, a woman’s reproductive years come to an end.
There are three stages of menopause – perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. The perimenopause phase is the transition phase that begins at 40-44 years. The end of perimenopause marks the beginning of menopause. The time frame after menopause is postmenopause.
Diet plays an important role in relieving you of some of the symptoms of menopause. If you smoke, drink too much alcohol, or eat spicy foods, it could trigger hot flashes and night sweats. So it would be best if you were watchful of that. Moreover, in menopause, your ovaries stop making estrogen. This results in deficient levels of the hormone.
So estrogen may help to a great extent. For better results, you could add cruciferous vegetables, fruits, chickpeas, lentils, flaxseed, and soybeans to your diet.
Menopause, the time before that and the time after that as well, is one of the most challenging phases of your life. Staying fit – physically and mentally will help you sail through it smoothly. It’s just a phase and will pass on soon. You have to take good care of yourself, and things will fall into place eventually.