For many women, menopause symptoms seem to take over their bodies without warning. Since there are a wide variety of menopause symptoms, it’s important for women to recognize and understand what these symptoms mean, why they are happening, and what they can do to handle them.
Some women have many of these symptoms of menopause; others have very few. Some really lucky menopausal women have no symptoms at all. Here is a list of some of the most common menopausal symptoms — plus some tips on how you can cope with them. Be sure to discuss your symptoms or any others concerns with your health care provider.
One of the major signs of menopause is a change in your monthly menstrual cycle. About 90% of women experience menstrual cycle changes for about 4-8 years before they reach menopause. Your cycle will typically get shorter, with periods occurring more often than every 28 days. Bleeding may last fewer or more days than previously, and your flow may be heavier, lighter, or just spotting. Just before you go through menopause (known as Perimenopause), you may even skip periods. These are all signs that you're not producing as much of the two hormones — estrogen and progesterone — that regulate your menstrual cycle.
What you can do? Be sure to keep extra tampons and pads in a number of places (work, home, car) just in case! Please consult your health care provider if you are concerned about the fluctuation in your cycle.
Hot flashes (or their nighttime counterpart, night sweats) happen during menopause, when you don't produce enough of the hormones that work with the brain to regulate your temperature. The drop in estrogen confuses the body's thermostat and sends an alert to the heart, blood vessels, and nervous system to work harder, which in turn brings on a sudden sensation of intense heat. Then your body cools down, leaving you chilled. Night sweats can wake you from a sound sleep, and can make it difficult to get into the deeper levels of sleep that rest and revitalize the body.
What you can do?
Dress in layers so you can always remove the top layer when a hot flash comes on. At night, keep an extra nightshirt next to your bed and change it if you wake up sweaty. You can also spread a few towels between you and your sheets. After a hot flash, strip out the first towel and throw it on the floor. The next towel will be dry and comfortable, and you won't have to change the bedding.
Sleeplessness is a condition of waking up and not feeling rested and this condition can lead to other problems, such as daytime drowsiness, depression, and difficulty concentrating. Difficulty sleeping is not uncommon when going through menopause as approximately 61% of menopausal women experience sleep problems according to the National Sleep Foundation. Night sweats, snoring, sleep apnea, and anxiety associated with menopausal women makes falling asleep or staying asleep more difficult.
What you can do?
Establish a regular bedtime and wake-up schedule. Eat healthy and maintain a normal weight. Avoid foods that may trigger hot flashes such as spicy or acidic foods. Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol, especially before bedtime. Dress in lightweight clothes. Keep your bedroom dark, cool and comfortable. Reduce stress and worrying as much as possible.
Another common symptom of menopause is vaginal dryness. Affecting perimenopausal, menopausal, and postmenopausal women, menopausal vaginal dryness can be devastating because the discomfort can limit physical intimacy. This can be emotionally painful as well, as it may lead to feelings of inadequacy due to reduced sexual desire. As estrogen levels decline, the vagina becomes less lubricated. In addition, the number of layers in the vaginal lining shrinks, and this thinner skin is more likely to become irritated or susceptible to vaginal infections. For this reason, sex may not feel as good as it used to.
What you can do? Use a vaginal moisturizer to soothe and restore vaginal moisture, and an intimate lubricant during intercourse.
Feeling fuzzy? Forget where you left your car keys? Memory loss isn’t caused by menopause, but it may be aggravated by its symptoms. While it's true that many menopausal women become forgetful, in the vast majority of cases, this isn't a sign of more serious memory issues — the brain simply doesn't retain as much information as we age. And, if you don't get enough sleep and are frequently distracted by hot flashes, you may find it even harder to concentrate. Some menopausal women find that they are less distracted when the hormonal fluctuations of menopause have passed. The aging brain can be a lot better at remembering long-term events than short-term ones.
What you can do? Keep a notepad and pen with you at all times to make lists. At home, always put your keys down in the same place. And when driving, park your car next to some specific landmark, and write it down so you can find it again.
One minute you’re fine, the next you’re in tears. Mood swings are common during menopause, when your body is experiencing a hormonal imbalance. But from hot flashes to night sweats, panic attacks to headaches, the symptoms of menopause can give anyone reason to be irritable and moody. Mood swings may be caused by any number of the many stressors that can hit women in midlife: divorce or death of parents or a spouse, grown children leaving home, the regret of never having had children — all can lead to feelings of vulnerability and moodiness. Yet there are no studies that show that menopause leads to depression or anxiety. You may recall that during adolescence — another time of life when your hormones were in flux — you were also moody and irritable at times. And now, just as then, your emotional state can be not so great one day, but excellent the next.
What you can do?
Count to ten! This will give you time to breathe and get back to being in control of your emotions. But don't be afraid to cry, laugh, or do whatever you feel like to let off steam (when it's appropriate, e.g. not in the middle of a business meeting!).
As if the other symptoms of menopause weren’t enough, many women also experience weight changes during menopause or a general change in body shape. Most of us put on a few pounds as we age, and more of what we eat turns to fat rather than muscle. This is because of the fluctuation in your hormones. Around the time of menopause, women develop "insulin resistance", making their bodies store fat rather than burn calories. This shift in weight can make you appear heavier, though you may weigh the same as you always did.
What you can do?
When it comes to menopausal weight gain, try not to step on a scale every day, or sweat every little calorie. If you're overweight, talk to your healthcare provider about setting up a well-balanced diet for this time of life. And exercise, exercise, exercise! Women who are physically active tend to have fewer and less severe hot flashes.