Women between the ages of 45 and 55 undergo biological and hormonal changes that are a result of menopause. While every female will have her own experiences with this life change, the signs and symptoms are pretty standard.
Many of these symptoms are also related to aging, so you may not realize that your body is starting to enter menopause. Menopause is when your ovaries stop releasing eggs and your monthly period stops. Menopause is officially diagnosed after you have not had a period in the last 12 months. However, many early signs and symptoms of menopause will occur during this time as your body makes a biological shift.
Perimenopause: The First Sign
Perimenopause begins several years before your body enters menopause. On average, this lasts for 4 years, but for some women, this stage may be only a few months long or last a decade. This stage is concluded when a woman goes 12 months without having her period and is officially in menopause.
The signs of perimenopause are similar to menopause, although many women still have their period regularly during this time. Symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Irregular periods
- The need to urinate more frequently
- Discomfort during sex
- Mood swings
These are all normal signs and should not raise alarm. Irregular periods are common, although you should notify your doctor if you experience blood clots or spotting after sex. Your period may be shorter than usual or happen on a short cycle, meaning you may have periods more often.
Signs and Symptoms of Menopause
Women have a variety of signs or symptoms of menopause because estrogen is used in many parts of the body. As less estrogen is produced, a myriad of symptoms can arise. This is why many people experience menopause differently: their chemical makeup is different and their body reacts differently to fluctuating estrogen levels.
Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms:
Hot Flashes & Night Sweats
Hot flashes and night sweats affect close to 80% of menopausal women. Hot flashes normally appear as a redness on the chest, neck, and face. When this happens at night, it is called a night sweat. Studies show that race and lifestyle can affect a woman’s experience with hot flashes. Being mindful of diet, alcohol intake, and body mass index may make hot flashes less intense.
Declining levels of estrogen can make women feel like they are in a constant state of PMS. Irritability and feeling sad are the two most common types of emotional symptoms women have at this time. The good news is, these can often be managed by making lifestyle changes, such as learning new ways to relax and reduce stress.
Vaginal Dryness & Decreased Sex Drive
A woman’s natural libido is controlled by estrogen. As mentioned, estrogen levels begin to decrease in menopause. This can cause your body to produce less natural lubrication that causes vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex. This combination of dryness and declining levels of estrogen are to blame for a lower sex drive. There are a variety of prescription and over-the-counter lubricants and moisturizers available, but be sure to speak to your OB/GYN before trying anything new.
Any time your body undergoes serious hormonal changes – like pregnancy or menopause – you may experience breast soreness. This is a temporary symptom and does not last long.
You may notice changes in your skin, pain in your joints, or a tingling sensation in your hands, arms, and feet. These symptoms, while attributed to menopause, are also common symptoms of aging. Other body changes may include fluctuating metabolic rate or hair loss or thinning. Hormonal changes affect all aspects of your body. Working with doctors and specialists to maintain your overall health can improve your menopause symptoms
One of the most common symptoms women have during perimenopause and menopause is brain fog, or cognitive dysfunction. Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you went in there? Brain fog. Have you had a sudden memory lapse? Brain fog. This lack of concentration and forgetfulness can be attributed to a dip in estrogen levels. It is real. Those hormone levels are directly related to the hippocampus – the region of the brain whose functionality is key in learning and memory retention.
Some women have mild symptoms that can be managed by making simple lifestyle changes like carrying a portable fan to treat hot flashes. Some women don’t need treatment at all. Other women have symptoms that can be problematic. Finding women that you can talk about this with is helpful as you enter the next phase of your life.