Menopause symptoms, like irregular periods, hot flashes or night sweats, often appear gradually over a few months. It occurs due to a decrease of estrogen levels that continue to drop over time. These changes cause many changes and symptoms in the female body.
These symptoms can vary in intensity from woman to woman and generally emerge between 45 and 51 years of age (although they can also appear before). If you suspect you may have menopause, it is important to see a gynecologist to confirm a diagnosis.
If menopause is diagnosed, the doctor may recommend hormonal replacement therapy as well as lifestyle changes to relieve symptoms and improve overall quality of life.
The most common symptoms of menopause include:
1. Irregular period
One of the first signs of menopause is an irregular period that occurs more or less frequently. Women may also notice a lighter or heavier flow, or a longer or shorter duration.
This stage of irregular periods is referred to as perimenopause, and it is characterized as the transition between the reproductive and non-reproductive life stage prior to menopause. This transition can last months to years.
It is important to highlight that when periods are irregular, it is more difficulty to get pregnant, although it is still possible. Women looking to prevent pregnancy are advised to take birth control as prescribed by their gynecologist.
2. Period with clots
During perimenopause, it is common to note the presence of clots during a period. It is important to report heavy clotting to a hynecologist, as it may be a sign of another health condition that requires treatment. Read more about what can cause blood clots with your period.
3. Hot flashes
How flashes can occur in some women prior to entering menopause. It can even occur before periods become irregular and can last for several years, even after entering menopause. This symptoms can make women feel hot very suddenly without any apparent reason, particularly on the face, neck and chest. Skin can also become red and sweaty, and the heart can beat faster for 1 to 5 minutes.
Although this is a common symptom of menopause, not all women will experience it.
Hot flashes may not always be a sign of menopause, which is why this symptom should be assessed. They can occur with other conditions, like hyperthyroidism or hypogonadism, or with certain medication.
4. Night sweats
Night sweats are heart flashes that occur when sleeping. They can be very intense and cause you to wake up. This symptom can vary from woman to woman, and many may present with night sweats before entering menopause. This symptom can also persist long after menopause.
In addition to menopause, other causes of night sweats include stress, anxiety, diabetes or even the room temperature. Learn about the other causes of night sweats and what to do.
5. Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
Waking up during the night, difficulty sleeping or insomnia can occur for many reasons. However, it may be a sign of menopause in women who normally do not experience sleep issues. It may lead to a lower sleep quality and less rest, causing irritability and fatigue during the day.
6. Mood changes
Another symptom that may indicate that menopause may be occuring is change in mood, like irritability, anxiety, fatigue and an overall bad mood. This can make women feel that they are out of control, and occurs due to hormonal changes from menopause. It can increase the risk for developing depression.
Women who feel depressed or experience frequent changes in mood (more than 2 or 3 times per week) should be assessed for menopause or to rule out other conditions.
7. Vaginal dryness
Vaginal dryness is a symptom that emerges in some women due to a decreased production of estrogen in the ovaries. This can change the lining along the vaginal tract and lead to a decrease in discharge that keeps the vagina moist.
This symptom is associated with or discomfort during sex, itching in and around the vagina, and urinary frequency. In addition, it can increase the risk for women developing a yeast infection os cystitis.
8. Decreased libido
A decrease in libido can occur in women for many reasons, like stress or fatigue. However, it may also be a sign of menopause, as hormonal changes can influence a woman’s desire to engage in sexual activity.
9. Urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence can occur in menopause due to a reduction in estrogen levels which can also affect the urethral lining. The urethra is the tract through which urine is eliminated, and it can become thinner, less flexible and less elastic, leading to persistent and involuntary urination.
Due to these changes in the urethra, women are also more prone to UTIs and are therefore advised to follow-up with their doctor if they have symptoms like pain or burning during urination or a constant low-grade fever.
10. Faltering memory
A weak memory, difficulty learning, or difficulty remembering words, names or where objects were put away can occur with menopause. These symptoms are related to decreased estrogen levels, as normal levels are important for concentration, learning and memory in women.
Women may also present with organization or planning issues due to this hormonal changes.
That said, it is also possible that memory changes are related to normal aging or even Alzheimer’s disease. therefore, it is improtant for this symptom to be assessed by a doctor.
11. Dry skin
Another common sign of menopause is dry skin that is thinner, more flaccid and less shiny. This occurs because estrogen is essential for the production of collagen, which leaves skin more moist, hydrated and firm. Menopause can also lead to hair loss.
12. Increased body weight
Women in menopause may also notice an increase in body weight, which happens due to metabolism slowing. A lower metabolism means less calories are burned, which means that weight can start to accumulate more easily and fat can accumulate around the waist.
Nonetheless, there are other conditions, like hypothyroidism, that can also lead to weight gain. Therefore, you should see a doctor if you notice this symptom.
Online symptoms checker
If you think you may have or may be entering menopause, enter your symptoms below to assess your risk:
Confirming a diagnosis
A menopause diagnosis is confirmed by a gynecologist based on the presenting symptoms and whether a period has been absent for 12 consecutive months.
The doctor may also order bloodwork to check FSH, estrogen and progesterone levels to help reach a diagnosis.
Many symptoms of menopause are temporary, although there are some tips that can help to relieve, reduce or prevent them:
- Dress in layers, and opt to remove or put on clothing depending on your body temperature
- Try to identify what triggers hot flashes, as some women may experience them with hot beverages, caffeine, spicy food, alcohol, stress, or hot environments or rooms
- Avoid drinks with caffeine, like coffee, black tea or green tea, as they can interfere with sleep and cause insomnia (especially if taken at night)
- Perform Kegal exercises every day, to strengthen pelvic floor muscles and improve urinary incontinence
- Use a water-based lubricant, as prescribed by your doctor, to reduce discomfort associated with vaginal dryness, particularly during sex.
- Avoid smoking, as cigarettes can increase hot flashes and lead to early menopause
- Try relaxing techniques like meditation, yoga or massage, as these can relieve mood changes, stress and anxiety
- Engage in physical activity regularly as this helps to release endorphins to improve well-being and pleasure, which can help with mood changes or depression
It is important to consult a gynecologist if you notice symptoms of menopause, so that a thorough assessment can be completed. If confirmed, the doctor may prescribe treatment like hormonal replacement therapy.
It is also important to maintain a healthy diet with fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You should avoid canned, processed and sugary foods, as these can worsen symptoms and lead to additional weight gain.