Am I menopausal? Am I not menopausal? There are so many different symptoms involved with the menopause that often it can become difficult to determine whether what you are feeling is being triggered by the menopause or by an outlying factor. In this page, our menopause expert Eileen Durward cuts through the confusion of menopausal symptoms, helping you understand whether or not you are really going through this stage of life.
How old are you? The average age
for entering the menopause is 52, but many women start noticing some
symptoms such as disturbances to their previously regular menstrual cycle
in their mid to late 40s, and others don’t notice anything until later
in their 50s. Occasionally symptoms start in the early 40s, but this is
unusual and it is worth considering other explanations for symptoms
experienced at that age
Has your cycle changed? At the
start of the menopause some women find their periods coming more often,
and sometimes more heavily, than previously. Other women will find their
periods coming less frequently or being lighter than before. Sometimes the
cycle becomes erratic, with no pattern emerging. Changes to your cycle at
around the age of 50 are likely to be linked to the menopause. If you are
younger than this then there may be other reasons, such as thyroid
imbalance, nutritional deficiencies (maybe linked to poor digestion or bad
diet), or stress
How stressed are you?Stress is a
key factor in messing up hormone balance. Not only can stress cause
symptoms that look like an early menopause, but when the menopause truly
arrives, the stressed woman will have a rougher ride than her calmer
sister. This is because the adrenal glands, which produce adrenalin in
response to physical or emotional strain, are also in charge of producing
hormones to prop up falling levels of oestrogen and progesterone. If your
adrenals are busy coping with stress, they won’t have the resources to
create these back-up hormones. Your menopause will be more dramatic and
harder to handle
Are you having hot flushes and/or
night sweats? These are the most common symptoms of the menopause, and
their emergence around the late 40s or early 50s may well herald the start
of the menopause, especially if accompanied by changes in the menstrual
cycle. There are other reasons for flushes and sweats though, so consider
these before declaring yourself menopausal: thyroid imbalance; food
intolerances; chronic stress; dehydration; side effects of medication.
This isn’t an exclusive list, so check with your doctor for other possible
How many other symptoms do you have?
If you have flushes and/or changes in your menstrual cycle along with
several of these other symptoms, then it is more than likely that you are
indeed entering the menopause: aches and pains; low libido; thinning hair;
changes in skin condition; vaginal dryness; disturbed sleep patterns
(often due to night sweats); fatigue; low mood; emotional fragility e.g.
crying for no apparent reason; memory blank spots. Again, there can be
other reasons for many of these symptoms, primarily thyroid imbalance and
chronic stress, so don’t assume that they add up to the menopause unless
you have most of them and your cycle is definitely awry.
More details on menopausal symptoms
The average age for experiencing the menopause is still 52, despite the media focusing on women experiencing earlier menopause. Don’t be fooled into dismissing your health issues as being part of the peri-menopause (the run up to the menopause) without very good evidence, because you may miss an important diagnosis of something else – see the alternative possibilities below.
Many of these, however, can be mistakenly blamed on the menopause when actually they are due to stress, wear and tear, and diverse other health issues that should be investigated:
Hot flushes can be due to food intolerances, stress, or thyroid imbalance
Changes in the pattern of your menstrual cycle can be due to stress, thyroid imbalance, or deficiencies such as anaemia (lack of iron)
Excessive anxiety can be due to a stressful lifestyle, caffeine intake, or sleep deprivation
Low libido can be due to stress and sleep deprivation (or the lack of an attractive partner!)
Cosmetic changes can be due to poor nutrition
Fatigue can be due to sleep deprivation
Joint pains can be due to an active lifestyle, wear and tear.
So don’t rush to a diagnosis of incipient menopause. Check for other factors first. Many women find that reducing their stress levels, eating a healthier diet, exercising lightly but regularly, and prioritising sleep will reduce or remove many of the above symptoms.
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You won’t get the menopause the minute you turn 50! The average starting age is actually between 45 and 55 and it can often depend on a number of factors including hereditary, weight and health, however every single woman will have an individual menopause.