Forewarned is forearmed. As you approach this milestone, it helps to be as informed as possible about the symptoms of menopause. With a good understanding of what’s going on, you can track your menopause from the beginning and work with your healthcare provider to manage your discomfort.
Here’s a rundown of the symptoms that signal your menopausal journey has begun.
1. Hot Flashes
Hot flashes are the cornerstone symptom of menopause. Most women experience them, but the triggers and severity differ from woman to woman.
These intense feelings of heat can occur suddenly, usually on the face and neck, but sometimes all over the body. They can last for a few minutes up to a few hours and can occur when you least expect them. Many women experience a chill after a hot flash.
Hot flashes can be extremely uncomfortable, but they are a normal part of menopause. You can blame your hypothalamus – it’s in charge of temperature regulation. If it thinks you’re too hot, it signals your body to start sweating to cool you off. Apart from the sweat, this causes faster circulation, flushing, and even more discomfort than you may have felt beforehand.
2. Vaginal Dryness
While vaginal dryness is a common and uncomfortable side effect during menopause, it can also occur before menopause in women with low estrogen levels. There may be a genetic link to vaginal dryness as well.
Vaginal dryness often leads to painful sex, decreased sex drive, and distress. This can easily be treated with lubricants or hormone therapy. While there are many over-the-counter options available, these are temporary solutions and do not address the underlying cause of vaginal dryness.
3. Trouble Sleeping
Your body goes through many changes during menopause, including an increase in body temperature and an increase in body fat. These changes can cause disrupted sleep or poor quality sleep. Sleep disorders like insomnia and restless leg syndrome are also common during perimenopause.
Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early. It happens when the brain doesn’t get enough deep sleep because it’s overstimulated or stressing over something going on in your life.
During menopause, some women experience increased stress levels and may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep because of their changing hormones.
4. Weight Gain
Many menopausal women gain weight due to changes in hormone levels. The most important of these hormones is estrogen, which helps maintain body weight by regulating metabolism and controlling hunger.
As your ovaries slow estrogen production, the rate at which your body burns calories also slows down. This can lead to weight gain, especially around your abdomen.
Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help mitigate some weight gain, but it is a natural part of menopause.
5. Difficulty Concentrating
As you progress through menopause, many women may notice they may be more forgetful, misplacing items, and generally not feeling like themselves. This can cause difficulty concentrating and focusing on the tasks at hand.
While some clinicians contend that changes in cognition are more related to age than menopause, the host of other changes going on in your body certainly aren’t helping. Brain fog and impaired cognition can impact your mental health during the menopausal transition.
6. Depression & Anxiety
Depression, anxiety, and mood swings are commonly reported side effects of menopause. According to the CDC, about 1 in 5 women will experience mood changes and depression. With all the other changes going on, it’s no wonder menopausal women are at an increased risk of both depression and anxiety.
In addition to depression, menopausal women are also at a higher risk for developing anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
7. Hair Pattern Changes
Estrogen and progesterone promote hair growth and density. As these hormones cecline during menopause, many women will experience thinning hair. This often means increased shedding or thinner hair shafts. It’s especially important at this time to get enough vitamins and minerals to keep your hair healthy.
When your body stops producing estrogen, you may also notice an increase in unwanted hair in other places. That’s because your body has always produced androgens (male sex hormones like testosterone). When the female hormone levels decrease, these androgens may try to take the lead on hair growth.
For many, this could mean facial hair or increased body hair. Luckily, there are plenty of solutions from topical creams, to waxing, to laser treatments to combat unwanted hair.
8. Stiff Joints
More than half of women surveyed about their experience with menopause report stiff joints and loss of bone density. Arthritis is a common complaint for women entering midlife. Many women report pain in their hands and wrists, knees and hips, and stiffness in the morning.
The hormonal changes of menopause can cause calcium to leech out of bones leading to an increased risk of osteoporosis. It’s important to talk to your doctor about supplements or making dietary and lifestyle changes to keep this from happening.
9. Breast Changes
You’re probably aware that hormonal shifts can cause breast discomfort. Many women already experience this cyclically around menstruation. This may increase during perimenopause. When you hit postmenopause, your breast tissue will become less firm and more fatty.
The drop in estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin will also cause your mammary glands and ducts to shrink, which can cause your breasts to shrink and change shape. While there’s no surefire way to prevent sagging breasts during and after menopause, you can make lifestyle changes that support healthy tissue, like avoiding caffeine and wearing the right bra.
Note: the change in breast tissue can cause an increased risk of breast cancer. Be sure to get regular mammograms and discuss risk factors with your healthcare provider.
10. Urinary Tract Infections
Lower estrogen levels lead to a weakening of the vaginal lining, known as vaginal atrophy – recently renamed genitourinary syndrome of menopause by the North American Menopause Society. This atrophy can make it easier for bacteria to infect the urinary tract and cause recurring urinary tract infections.
Menopause can also cause the muscles in the pelvic floor to weaken, which may lead to stress unrinary incontinence, where small amounts of urine may leak out of the urethra involuntarily.
When to Expect Menopause
When does menopause usually begin? The average age for menopause to occur is 51. Some women start early menopause in their late 40s. About 1% of women experience premature menopause in their late 30s.
Most women will experience some symptoms of menopause (such as night sweats or changes in estrogen levels) much earlier than the actual onset of menopause.
How do you know menopause is starting? You know menopause is starting when you begin to experience symptoms, such as hot flashes and increased irregularity of your menstrual cycle.
What are the 3 stages of menopause? The 3 stages of menopause are perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.
- Perimenopause: Estrogen levels rise and fall and create irregular and unpredictable periods.
- Menopause: A full year since your last period or menstrual period signals the official onset of menopause, which technically lasts only a single day.
- Postmenopause: The period of a woman’s life after menopause has officially occurred.
Managing Menopause Symptoms
While menopause isn’t a medical condition that needs a cure, your healthcare provider can help you manage a wide range of symptoms. With a host of treatments available, you can work together to ensure you’re in the best shape.
Things That May Help
- Vitamin D can help fight depression and anxiety.
- Various supplements alleviate high blood pressure, vasomotor disease, and cardiovascular disease.
- You can make diet changes to lower cholesterol and increase hair follicle health.
- Melatonin can relieve sleep problems
- Hormone replacement therapy shows promise in lessening a wide range of symptoms associated with menopause.
Things to Avoid
What are the things that make menopause worse? According to the National Institute on Aging (nih.gov), the following can actually make menopause worse and exacerbate unpleasant symptoms:
- Spicy foods
Again, lifestyle changes are essential to vitiating the adverse effects of menopause.
We’re Here to Help
If you need help alleviating symptoms or just navigating menopause, give us a call. At Sano Health Club, we offer integrative care and a functional approach to get you on track to a healthier, happier you. If you want more information on hormone health, sign up for our newsletter or follow us on instagram.
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