What are the symptoms of menopause?
Symptoms of the menopause can vary from one person to the next and with over 30 symptoms, it’s clear to see why the menopause is different for every woman. On this page, I take a look the most common menopause symptoms, as well as other symptoms you might not be aware of.
The most common symptoms you may experience in the lead up to and during the menopause include:
Other menopause symptoms which are less common, but you may experience include:
It’s important to bear in mind that even if you are the ‘typical’ age, your symptoms may not be due to the menopause. If in any doubt, make an appointment with your doctor.
Read on to find out more about the above symptoms...
Hot flushes & night sweats
The hot flush, usually accompanied by sweating, is said to be the most common symptom encountered. It is experienced by over 80% of women going through the menopause. The problem arises as changes in hormone levels upset the temperature regulating part of the brain.
As hot flushes and sweats often occur together, the two terms are commonly used interchangeably to describe the same set of symptoms. A night sweat is simply excessive sweating or a hot flush at night. As night sweats can cause sleep problems, they have the potential be disruptive to quality of life.
Sudden changes in room temperature, eating spicy foods as well as stress can trigger hot flushes and sweats.
Read more about hot flushes and night sweats in the menopause.
Menopause occurs when periods stop. However, it is rare that the monthly menstrual bleed ceases suddenly. Most commonly, the menstrual cycle becomes irregular and a tendency towards heavy periods, as well as prolonged or painful periods.
This usually marks the start of the first stage of the menopause and is known medically as the Peri-menopause. Other symptoms such as irritability or low mood may also be present. These may appear or worsen in the week or so before each menstrual bleed and are considered to be a form of PMS (Pre-menstrual syndrome).
Sometimes a woman may go for a few months without a period, only for it to return with a vengeance.
Excessively heavy periods may be an indication of fibroids affecting the womb or another gynaecological disorder, especially if accompanied by severe pain. It is always best to consult a doctor if you experience these symptoms.
Read more about irregular periods and the menopause
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Intimate body changes
Changes in hormones during the menopause not only affects the regularity of the menstrual cycle. They can also cause breast pain or tenderness. This arises because the female hormones get thrown out of balance and is usually seen at around the time of ovulation or menstruation.
In addition, lower oestrogen levels, together with a decrease in testosterone during this time of life, can lead to a reduction in libido or sexual drive. This may be made worse as a result of vaginal dryness which arises because of a reduction in oestrogen, blood flow and lubrication.
Read more about breast pain, vaginal dryness and loss of libido in the menopause.
Becoming older often means a natural reduction in physical activity – so the menopause will not be the only reason for weight gain. Having said that, changes in hormone levels do influence body weight, although the way it does this is not always consistent.
In general, women tend to gain weight during the menopause. Use this information to prepare yourself - exercise more and watch what you eat.
Read more about weight gain and the menopause.
Decreasing levels of hormones during the menopause can affect the way the brain functions and women may experience the symptom of mood swings or low mood during the menopause. These symptoms are probably more common than we realise, and very occasionally, changes in hormones can even lead to depression.
Low mood during the menopause is not helped by the fact that this phase of life can be associated with children leaving home, creating ‘empty nests’ – not helpful when you are already feeling a bit down anyway.
Anxiety and irritability can also be part of the menopause. Some women find these symptoms similar in nature to Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and cope with them as such. Occasionally, anxiety or irritability may be accompanied by palpitations, or an awareness of one’s heartbeat and, if untreated or severe, it can escalate into panic attacks.
During the menopause, changing hormones put a tremendous about of stress on your nervous system, which can also cause you to experience stress more readily.
Read more about mood swings, low mood, anxiety, stress and panic attacks in the menopause
Joint pain & muscle pain
Many women experience muscle pain whilst going through the menopause1. Studies have shown that 50% of post-menopausal women experience joint pain2. The most commonly affected areas of the body are the neck, shoulders, elbows and hands.
Hormones play an important role in a woman’s joint health and fluctuating oestrogen levels during the menopause can have an impact on how your muscles and joints behave. If you experience symptoms of joint or muscle pain and stiffness, there are a number of ways you can help yourself naturally.
Changing your diet can have a positive effect on these symptoms of menopause. Stay away from sugar and increase your intake of vitamin C. The use of arnica gel externally can also help to reduce the aches and pains experienced.
Read more about joint pain and muscle pain in the menopause
This is something most women will experience at some point during the menopause in varying degrees.
All the hormonal changes can drain your energy as your body tries to adapt and rebalance on a daily basis without the hormones that it’s been used to. Eventually your energy levels can fall to such a level that you end up getting fatigued.
During the menopause your nutritional needs also go up, so if you are not getting enough nutrients, then your energy levels will be very low, which can cause fatigue as well.
Certain lifestyle factors may also trigger this symptom, including stress and anxiety.
Read more about fatigue and the menopause.
Other menopause symptoms
Other symptoms which may be experienced on the lead up or during the menopause include:
Sleep problems. Night sweats and hot flushes are not the only reasons for sleep problems during the menopause. Changes in hormones during the menopause can, on its own, give rise to difficulty sleeping.
Symptoms include waking up often during the night, poor quality sleep and driving your partner mad tossing and turning through the night. If your sleep problems are not related to night sweats or hot flushes, you may wish to download our guide on what you can do when you are Sleeping Poorly.
Read more about sleep problems and the menopause.
Digestive problems. These are also caused by weakness of connective tissue as the levels of hormones decline, making the digestive system less able to function normally. Symptoms such as indigestion and bloating may be experienced.
Read more about digestive problems and bloating in the menopause.
Nausea. Although it is more often associated with pregnancy, nausea can also occur during the menopause. Like morning sickness during pregnancy, it is thought that nausea is caused during the menopause due to your hormones radically fluctuating.
Other factors can also cause you to feel nausea at this time, including dehydration, a stressed liver and low blood sugar.
Read more about nausea and the menopause.
Headaches. These may be a direct outcome of anxiety. Although not fully understood, it seems that hormonal changes during the menopause may have a direct effect, giving rise to headaches in (probably) the same way that women with migraines suffer headaches at particular points in their menstrual cycle.
Read more about headaches and the menopause.
Bladder problems. Weakness of connective tissue which occurs during menopause can affect the tissues controlling your bladder and you may find a need to pass urine more frequently during the menopause.
The lining of the urethra can become more sensitive, causing you to experience bladder infections such as cystitis.
Read more about bladder weakness and bladder infections in the menopause.
Itchy skin. This can be common in the menopause and is often caused by lowering oestrogen levels. As the level of oestrogen in your body falls, so does the amount of collagen and skin-moistening oils produced. This causes your skin to become dry and irritated, which can result in your skin feeling itchy.
Low levels of collagen can also lead to your skin becoming thinner and less elastic and lead to the formation of wrinkles.
Read more about itchy skin and the menopause.
Hair loss. Due to hormonal changes, your hair is another part of the body which can lose condition, lustre and strength. During menopause hair loss can occur due to falling levels of oestrogen and an increase in testosterone. Increased levels of testosterone can also cause facial hair.
Other factors can also cause hair loss including diet, stress, certain illnesses and medication.
Read more about hair loss and the menopause.
Dry mouth. During menopause falling oestrogen can dry out all the mucus membranes in the body, including in the mouth, which is why you may find that your mouth can start to get a little drier.
Dry mouth can cause you to experience more difficulty chewing and swallowing your food and it can start to get dry as you are talking.
Read more about dry mouth and the menopause.
Dry eyes. Similar to a dry mouth, the reduced moisture in the mucous membranes caused by falling oestrogen can also cause dry eyes.
The hormonal changes alter the composition of your tears, which impacts the watery part that lubricates and the sticky part which helps tears stick to the front of the eyes.
When eyes become dry, they can also become irritated as tears cannot protect them, this can then cause them to feel tired.
Read more about dry eyes and the menopause.
Brittle nails. This is one of the more unusual symptoms connected to the menopause, but they can often be linked to hormonal imbalances and dehydration.
Oestrogen is one of the hormones that help to regulate water in your body, so as the levels of oestrogen fall during the menopause your fluid balance can be affected. The lack of water in your body and dehydration can then cause you to have brittle nails.
Read more about brittle nails and the menopause.
Memory lapses. Women may experience a tendency to memory lapses and forgetfulness during the menopause. We are not sure why this happens, but what we know is that oestrogen receptors are found in many areas of the brain. Lowering levels of oestrogen are also thought to affect your short term memory.
Research has shown that women more troubled by hot flushes and night sweats had more memory problems because of disturbed sleep. The symptom often improves as one gets through the menopause, however, you can help yourself by ditching your pride and working with notes and lists.
Read more about memory lapses and the menopause.
Difficulty concentrating. Similar to memory lapses, the exact cause of this is unclear, but again, like many menopause symptoms, it is often accredited to the hormonal fluctuations.
Other menopause symptoms can also affect your concentration, including sleep problems and stress.
Read more about difficulty concentrating and the menopause.
Dizziness. Feeling dizzy and lightheaded can often occur during the menopause. It can be a result of the impact other menopause symptoms have on your body, including hot flushes, stress and anxiety, as well as other factors such as dehydration, low blood sugar and low blood pressure.
Read more about dizziness and the menopause.
High blood pressure. Although it is more often related to your age, high blood pressure can also be due to the menopause. It is still not fully understood why, but reduced levels of oestrogen are thought to put your arteries under more pressure, making you more susceptible to heart problems.
Weight gain, stress and anxiety, all of which are common symptoms of the menopause, can also cause high blood pressure.
Read more about high blood pressure and the menopause.
Irregular heartbeat. Oestrogen has an effect on the dilation of the coronary arteries. Therefore, when it is low during the menopause it can cause your arteries to contract which can lead to changes in your heart rhythm.
Read more about irregular heartbeat and the menopause.
Osteoporosis. This condition is popularly known as ‘thinning of the bones’. It comes about when bones lose their calcium content and weaken.
The hormone oestrogen is an important factor stimulating the cells responsible for building bones. Lower levels of the hormone during and after the menopause cause a gradual loss of bone strength.
Although this tendency is seen in all menopausal women, not everyone is at risk of osteoporosis. Those with a family history of the problem, smokers and women who have been less physically active in the past are more prone to the problem.
Read more about osteoporosis.