There are unmistakable signs and symptoms that a woman may experience when transitioning into menopause. The intensity of the symptoms can vary from woman to woman but there are various treatment options available that can help bring you some relief as you navigate through the menopausal stage of life.
When Does Menopause Begin and What Are the Initial Symptoms?
A few things to look for when you begin experiencing symptoms of menopause:
- Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 40 and 58 with 51-years-old being the average age.
- Menopause is a gradual process and this transitional phase is called perimenopause and may last four to eight years before you reach actual menopause.
- You will start to notice some signs. The most common sign associated with perimenopause is changes or irregularities of your menstrual cycle. You may have heavier cycles possibly with clots, lighter cycles, spotting between periods or after sex, or even skip your period for a month or more. These irregular bleeding patterns will be different for each woman.
- Some other early signs that may occur include hot flashes, night sweats, trouble sleeping, mood swings, and vaginal dryness.
- The timing of menopause can be influenced by smoking and genetics. If you are a smoker, you may reach menopause about two years earlier than a woman who does not smoke.
- A general rule of thumb is that women tend to reach menopause around the same age as their mothers and sisters.
34 Menopause Symptoms
Women experience hormonal fluctuations that can cause a wide variety of symptoms which include:
- Allergies - The immune system and hormones are connected, so when hormone changes occur it can lead to an increase in allergies for menopausal women.
- Anxiety - Women going through menopause often report increased feelings of anxiety and stress which can lead to panic attacks.
- Bloating - There may be an increased occurrence of bloating symptoms which includes discomfort, swelling and tightness in the abdomen and pelvic area.
- Breast tenderness - During menopause women often experience breast tenderness which is symptomatic of hormonal changes.
- Brittle nails - The hormone imbalance associated with menopause can lead to dehydration and result in brittle fingernails and toenails.
- Body odor changes - Hormonal changes can lead to increased perspiration and changes in body odor.
- Burning tongue - A small percentage of menopausal women may experience burning tongue pain.
- Depression - This can be a symptom of menopause. It is normal to feel sad or blue at times, but if these feelings persist or disrupt your life, it may be a depressive disorder.
- Difficulty concentrating - Some women have trouble remembering things or have difficulty concentrating while going through menopause. Not getting enough sleep can also contribute to this problem.
- Dizziness - Menopausal women may experience unexplained dizzy spells due to fluctuations in estrogen.
- Electric shocks - Some women report feeling electric shock sensations under their skin during menopause.
- Fatigue - When hormone levels drop so does your energy. Going through menopause may make you feel persistently weak and tired.
- Gastrointestinal problems - Many women report an increase in various digestive problems (gas, cramping, and nausea) during menopause.
- Gum problems - Some women experience increased problems with bleeding and inflammation of gums during menopause.
- Hot Flashes - A vast majority of women experience hot flashes due to a decrease in the body's supply of estrogen. It is a sensation of heat or warmth that spreads over the body creating a flushing or redness of the skin.
- Hair loss - Estrogen is needed to sustain hair growth and during menopause, it is common to have a gradual thinning or sudden loss of hair.
- Headaches - With the decrease in estrogen women may experience more frequent or more severe headaches during menopause.
- Incontinence - Bladder leakage and bladder control problems are commonly associated with menopausal symptoms.
- Irregular, pounding heartbeat - One of the more concerning menopausal symptoms for women is the occurrence of a pounding, rapid heartbeat. The deficiency in estrogen can overstimulate the nervous and circulatory system causing an irregular heartbeat.
- Irregular menstrual cycle - A perimenopausal hormone imbalance can cause menstrual irregularity. It is often the first sign menopause is approaching.
- Irritability - It is not unusual for menopausal women to feel 'on edge' or irritable. This symptom can also be associated with mood swings.
- Itchy skin - Another symptom of menopause is itchy skin due to the slowing of collagen production which causes the skin to become thin and dry.
- Joint pain - Estrogen also helps prevent inflammation in the joints. So when estrogen levels are low during menopause, it can lead to increased instances of inflammation and joint pain.
- Loss of libido - Women may experience a significant reduction in libido resulting from hormonal fluctuations and imbalance associated with menopause.
- Memory lapses - Difficulty remembering where you put your keys or missing appointments are common memory lapses that occur during menopause.
- Mood swings - These are common and vary from woman to woman. Mood swings can be sudden and intense.
- Muscle tension - During menopause, some women experience increased muscular pain and tension especially in the neck, shoulders, and back.
- Night sweats - These are severe hot flashes that occur during sleep. It can cause you to wake up drenched in sweat and will disrupt sleep as well.
- Osteoporosis - From perimenopause on, women will experience a reduction in bone density which can lead to osteoporosis.
- Panic attacks - For some women, the feelings of depression, fear and anxiety can exacerbate to actual panic attacks.
- Sleep disorders - It is common to experience restless nights of sleep or even insomnia when going through menopause. Night sweats are also found to disrupt sleep.
- Tingling extremities - Some menopausal women have reported they feel like they have a tingling sensation on their arms and legs.
- Vaginal dryness - When estrogen levels drop during menopause, vaginal tissues becomes drier and less elastic.
- Weight gain - Weight gain and redistribution of fat, especially around the midsection, is due to hormonal and metabolic changes.
Treatments to Help Alleviate Menopausal Symptoms
A few treatment options to help with the symptoms of menopause include:
Hormones and Medication Options
These hormonal therapies and medications may help provide relief from your menopausal symptoms:
- Hormone therapy is a very effective treatment option for relieving hot flashes. Your doctor will discuss the benefits and the risks of hormone therapy to determine if it a safe choice for you based on your personal and medical history.
- Vaginal estrogen can be applied directly to the vagina. It comes in a cream, tablet or ring that releases a small amount of estrogen that is absorbed into the vaginal tissues. It helps relieve vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, and some urinary problems.
- Low-dose antidepressants may help decrease hot flashes. This may be especially useful for women who can't take estrogen for health reasons.
- Clonidine is a pill or patch typically used to treat high blood pressure and may provide relief from hot flashes.
- Gabapentin is a medication approved to treat seizures, but also helps reduce hot flashes and night sweats. This will be helpful for women who aren't able to take estrogen.
- Your doctor may recommend medication to prevent or treat osteoporosis or vitamin D supplements to help strengthen bones.
Lifestyle Changes and Practical Remedies
The following suggestions can help or prevent menopausal symptoms:
- Get enough sleep, exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet.
- Keep cool. Hot flashes can also be triggered by hot drinks, caffeine, stress, alcohol, spicy foods etc. You can try dressing in layers and have cold water handy.
- To help reduce vaginal discomfort during sexual activity, use over-the-counter vaginal lubricants. Avoid products that contain glycerin which can cause irritation.
- Strengthen your pelvic floor by performing Kegel exercises which can help improve urinary incontinence problems.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Deep breathing techniques, massage, and progressive muscle relaxation may help with menopausal symptoms.
- Don't smoke. It may increase hot flashes and bring on earlier menopause.
A few alternative treatments that have been or are being studied include:
- Bioidentical hormones are hormones that come from plant sources and are chemically identical to those your body produces.
- Plant estrogens (phytoestrogens) occur naturally in certain foods.
- Black cohosh has become popular among many women with menopausal symptoms.
- Acupuncture may have some temporary benefits in helping to reduce hot flashes.
- Hypnotherapy may decrease the incidence of hot flashes for some menopausal women.
- Yoga or tai chi can help improve strength and coordination to help prevent falls that could lead to broken bones and other injuries.
Menopause Is Normal and Natural
As soon as you start to notice possible symptoms, it's a good idea to discuss what you are experiencing with your doctor. You want to be evaluated to make sure these symptoms are typical signs of perimenopause and not a sign of another medical condition. Keep in mind, these symptoms will vary from woman to woman, but just know that for the most part, these changes are natural and normal.