Menopause is a natural transition process that marks the end of fertility and menstruation in women. It usually occurs between the ages of 48 to 55, although it has become quite common to experience menopausal symptoms as early as 35. This transition period for women is caused by hormonal changes, which are more often than not accompanied by symptoms varying in severity. This article discusses a different menopause symptoms experienced by women. It is noteworthy that although some women may have a smooth transition into menopause, others’ menopause symptoms can affect their physical, emotional and mental well-being. Understanding these symptoms can help women accept and deal with the symptoms, and also arm their families with information so they can offer valuable support.
One of the most common menopausal symptoms is menstrual irregularities. Not all women experience the same changes, however, but the changes usually signify the onset of menopause. These menstrual changes include a lighter or heavier period than normal for more than a couple of months. The periods could also get longer or shorter, and number of days between periods could increase or decrease significantly.
Hot flushes are probably the most widely experienced menopausal symptom, with up to 75% of women experiencing this. This symptom is most commonly experienced as an intense feeling of heat throughout the body, and can last anywhere between 30 seconds and a few minutes. Other studies indicate, however, that these hot flushes can last up to 30 minutes. The intense heat is sometimes accompanied by reddened skin, a rapid heartbeat, sweating, a high temperature and insomnia. A hot flash occurrence can be followed by chills and shivering.
Night sweats are a menstrual symptom usually associated with hot flushes. When a severe hot flash occurs during the night, it can cause excessive sweating that drenches the sheets and sleepwear in sweat. These night sweats are differentiated from normal sweating at night caused by a warm environment. It is important to note that there may be other causes of night sweats other than the two mentioned above. These medical conditions like cancers, infections and hormone disorders are usually accompanied by other symptoms.
Immediately prior to, or during menopause, estrogen levels drop significantly. This sometimes leads to vaginal dryness, a condition that makes intercourse uncomfortable or painful. Because estrogen is the hormone that keeps the vaginal tissues moist, thick and elastic, a significant decrease in this hormone can cause dryness and less elasticity. Almost 50% of women experience this menopausal symptom, and most commonly during and immediately after the perimenopausal stage.
Insomnia is a condition of sleeplessness, or failing to initiate or maintain sleep. During menopause particularly, it is usually initiated by the onset of hot flushes at night. The rise in body temperature, heart palpitations and night sweats (with drenched sheets) make it almost impossible to fall back to sleep. Some studies have reported that insomnia is sometimes not linked to hot flushes at all. The onset of insomnia may start during perimenopause.
Joint aches are a common menopausal symptom for women, so widespread in fact that the term “menopausal arthritis” has been coined. Joint aches affect high impact joints like the knees, back, hips and sometimes hands. Symptoms usually include swelling, pain or stiffness in the joint.
Mood swings in menopausal women are evidenced by strong emotional responses to situations. These emotional responses are more easily triggered than normal. Outbursts of anger, delight, sadness or joy can be quickly followed by an opposite reaction. These mood swings can make women feel emotionally unpredictable and can adversely affect their colleagues or families.
Palpitations, or the feeling of a faster heartbeat, are common in menopausal women suffering from hot flushes. If, however, these symptoms persist even without the hot flushes, and are accompanied by chest pains and breathing difficulties, it could signify heart disease or a heart attack.
During menopause, some women may experience weight gain as a result of slower metabolism. This weight gain is not only linked to the hormonal shifts in the body, but also to exercise and eating habits.
Fatigue during menopause usually lasts for a couple of months. It may be caused by the body attempting to adjust to lower estrogen levels in the body. Fatigue may also be linked to insomnia and night sweats, which have a direct effect on the number of hours of sleep.
Decreased libido may be a consequence of hormonal shifts in the body, in which case it will only be a temporary symptom. In some cases, however, menopausal women experience a lessening in their sexual desires because they are under strain as a result of other severe menopausal symptoms. For example, if a woman is failing to sleep well, is suffering from night sweats, and has severe mood swings, these are all likely to affect her libido.
Depression during menopause is sometimes linked to severe mood swings. In some cases, however, the onset of depression may lead to a feeling of prolonged sadness and regret over life’s choices. A woman suffering from this symptom may stop enjoying the things she used to, withdraw from her normal life as much as possible and may, more often than not, think about dying.
Urinary problems may occur during menopause, and they are signified by an involuntary loss of urine, especially during physical activities. These activities can include simple acts like sneezing, laughing or standing up – any activity that puts pressure on the abdominal muscles. This urinary incontinence may be accompanied by a painful or burning sensation while urinating.
During the perimenopausal stage, most women begin to loose bone mass and tissue at approximately 2 to 3% every year. This condition is not painful, but can eventually lead to osteoporosis during menopause. Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones have lost so much of their mass that sufferers are at an increased risk of fracturing their bones, especially the spine, hip and wrist.
Memory lapses are a cognitive problem associated with menopause. Studies have shown that this problem occurs normally in the first year of menopause and is associated with short-term memory loss. Women experiencing this symptom may be unable to take in new information unless it is repeated to them several times, or they may be forgetful and fail to concentrate on the task at hand.
Irritability is unwarranted frustration or anger in response to a situation. This irritability is usually heightened during the menopausal stage. It may be linked to mood swings, or may occur in isolation and on a regular basis.
During menopause, a woman’s skin may become dry and itchy, a symptom that is also linked to the decrease in estrogen levels. One of the many functions of this hormone is to stimulate the body to form skin-smoothing oils. Hence, once this hormone’s levels drop significantly, dry, itchy skin can result.
Panic disorder is a symptom that is also linked to the hormonal changes that occur during menopause. This symptom, as it occurs in menopausal women, is usually not as severe as the clinical panic disorder.
Although menopause is a natural process that all women experience, it usually comes along with a whole baggage of symptoms. These symptoms range in severity and frequency, as well as in their effect on the physical, emotional and mental well being health of a woman. Armed with more information about how these symptoms manifest themselves in the body, women and those around them are better able to cope with this delicate time in their lives.