Signs and Symptoms of Menopause
Although every woman goes through it, the menopausal experience is different for every woman. From the age at which you start menopause to the severity of your symptoms, every woman is different. Likewise, the symptoms you notice are likely to be different from the symptoms your other menopausal female friends expereince. While symptoms of menopause can be frustrating, the majority of them can be treated either individually or through supplements to control common symptoms. To help you have a better idea of what to expect, here is an overview of some of the more common symptoms associated with menopause.
The most infamous menopause symptom of all, hot flashes can make some women's menopausal years too hot to handle. Hot flashes can last for anywhere from a few seconds to as long as five minutes. Most women will describe them as mild to intense waves of heat that spread throughout their upper body and sometimes their entire body. Hot flashes can also occur at night and make it difficult for some women to get a proper night of rest. Hot flashes that occur at night are known as "night sweats" and can be so intense that it is not unusual for the bed sheets to be soaked with sweat.
One of the first hints that your menstrual cycle is nearing its end is suddenly having irregular periods. Missed periods, heavier or lighter menstrual flow and longer or shorter periods are all perfectly normal. A woman may even go a few months between periods. This stage of menopause is known as perimenopause and it can continue for a number of years before you cease having your period altogether.
You are still fertile during this time, however, and should use birth control if you would like to avoid getting pregnant. Also, menopause has no affect on your risk for sexually transmitted diseases. If you are concerned about being infected, then be sure to use a condom when you have sex.
While many women feel a sense of new sexual freedom during their menopausal years, the changes that occur in the vagina may have them thinking twice about sex. Due to the drop in estrogen levels during menopause, the tissue that lines your vagina and your urethra becomes thinner, drier and less elastic. As a result, you have less vaginal lubrication, which can make sex uncomfortable and possibly even painful. Additionally, you become more prone to both vaginal and urinary tract infections.
Another well known symptom of menopause is mood swings. Many women find that they are more irritable or easier to upset once they enter menopause. In general, these abrupt changes in your mood are chalked up to your fluctuating hormones. However, the menopausal years are a time of great life changes. During this time your may have to deal with the death of a parent, your children leaving home and your retirement. All of these factors can have a significant impact on your mood, regardless of what your hormones are doing.
What Else to Expect
Other common symptoms you may experience during menopause include:
- Incontinence (regularly performing Kegel exercises can help strengthen your vaginal muscles as well as help with urinary incontinence)
- Change in sexual drive (may increase or decrease); thought to be more psychological than hormonal
- Changes in short-term memory
You may also notice changes in your skin, hair and digestive system. The distribution of your fat may also change with more of it being concentrated in your waist and stomach area now.
Effects of Estrogen
While the ovaries are responsible for the m
ajority of the estrogen produced in your body, there are other organs, like the adrenal glands, liver and kidneys, that also produce estrogen. This is why women still have low levels of estrogen in their bodies after their ovaries cease production of estrogen.
Estrogen is also produced in small amounts by the fat cells. As a result, women who are overweight may find that their hot flashes aren't as intense as some of their peers. Additionally, they may be at a lower risk of developing osteoporosis, a risk that normally increases for menopausal women.