Menopause Symptoms – The symptoms of menopause aren’t hard to miss. Some women go through menopause without any complications or unpleasant symptoms. But others find menopausal symptoms debilitating, beginning even during pre-menopause and lasting for years.
The symptoms that women experience are primarily related to a lowered production of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Symptoms vary widely because of the many effects that these hormones have on the female body.
Estrogen regulates the menstrual cycle and affects the reproductive system, urinary tract, heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles, and brain. As a result, women can experience the symptoms of menopause over their entire body.
1. Changes in Menstrual Cycle
Most women will experience absent, short, or irregular periods at some point in their lives. A wide range of conditions can cause irregular periods, though during perimenopause the most common cause is hormonal imbalance. Periods may come earlier or later than before; bleeding may be lighter or heavier than usual; and periods may be brief or go on for what feels like an eternity. Skipping periods and “spotting” – bleeding between periods – are also common symptoms of hormonal imbalance.
Menstrual irregularity is most common in a woman in her mid-40’s as she approaches menopause; the most likely cause of this is hormonal imbalance caused by decreasing levels of estrogen and progesterone. Irregular periods could also be caused by other medical conditions or even pregnancy.
2. Hot Flashes
Hot flashes, also known as hot flushes, are a sudden, transient sensation of warmth or heat that spreads over the body, creating a flushing, or redness, that is particularly noticeable on the face and upper body. The experience of hot flashes can range between delicate flushes and a sensation of engulfing flames.
Hot flashes result from the body’s reaction to a decreased supply of the hormone estrogen, which occurs naturally as women approach menopause. Not all women experience hot flashes, but more than half do. For some women, estrogen production decreases gradually, producing fewer hot flashes. But for others, the ovaries stop estrogen production more abruptly; for these women, hot flashes can be a rollercoaster ride. About 75 to 85% of American women are estimated to experience hot flashes during menopause.
3. Vaginal Dryness and Pain with Intercourse
Vaginal dryness occurs when the usually moist and soft feeling of the lining of the vagina disappears, bringing about symptoms such as itchiness and irritation. When estrogen levels drop during perimenopause, the vaginal tissue becomes drier, thinner, and less elastic. Lack of lubrication leads to sex becoming uncomfortable, and the vagina is frequently itchy, easily irritated, and more prone to infections.
An extreme version of vaginal dryness is atrophy of the vagina, where it becomes smaller in width and length. This symptom may appear due to a sudden drop in estrogen during menopause, be it natural, premature, or surgical. Vaginal dryness can be one of the most emotionally distressing menopause symptoms, and it is important to seek treatment for this condition if it begins to affect quality of life.
4. Insomnia or Problems Sleeping
Waking many times during the night, tossing and turning, and insomnia, are all sleep disorders connected with menopause. Women going through menopause may find that their sleep is less restful and that getting to sleep becomes increasingly difficult. Research indicates that women begin to experience restless sleep as many as five to seven years before entering menopause.
In the past, doctors believed that interrupted sleep was a consequence of night sweats, but recent studies indicate that problems with sleep are not always necessarily connected to other menopause symptoms. Sleep disorders are a symptom of menopause in their own right, but it is important for a woman to distinguish if her unique sleep disorder is actually caused by hormonal imbalance, or if there is another factor behind it.
5. Frequent Urination or Urinary Incontinence
Incontinence in menopausal women can be divided into three types. Stress incontinence is the accidental release of urine while laughing, coughing, sneezing, or due to over-exertion. This usually happens when the internal muscles fail to work effectively, because of age, surgery, or childbirth. With urge incontinence, the bladder develops a “mind of its own,” contracting and emptying whenever full despite an individual’s conscious efforts to resist. Overflow incontinence is the absence of the sensation of a full bladder, whereby accidental urination occurs because the individual doesn’t realize the bladder is full.
A woman’s personal experience of incontinence could include any combination of these. All of these types of incontinence can be worrying and embarrassing for menopausal women, but practical treatments are available for this common condition.
6. Night Sweats
Night sweats are classified as severe hot flashes that occur during sleep accompanied by intense bouts of sweating. Also known as “sleep hyperhidrosis”, night sweats aren’t actually a sleep disorder, but a common perspiration disorder that occurs during sleep in menopausal women. These episodes of nighttime sweating can range in severity from mild to intense, and can be caused by hormonal imbalance combined with environmental factors, such as an excessively warm sleeping environment.
For many women, the experience of night sweats is so severe that it disrupts sleep, and it may increase irritability and stress in a woman’s waking life. Night sweats can also be caused by underlying medical conditions, so it is important to get to the root of the issue before seeking treatment options.
7. Loss of Libido
Everyone experiences peaks and valleys in sexual desire, an ebb and flow in libido that could be caused by any of a variety of factors. However, for women going through menopause, this sudden drop in desire for sexual activity or intimacy can be troubling. In menopausal women, the main cause of low sex drive is hormonal imbalance, predominantly androgen deficiency. Loss of libido can also be caused by other menopause symptoms themselves, such as vaginal dryness or depression, or by prescription drugs, including medication prescribed to treat menopause symptoms.
It is important not to confuse sexual desire with sexual function. This article will deal with the loss of libido, or the hormonal and emotional reasons behind low sex drive in menopausal women.
8. Mood Swings
Menopausal mood swings are surprisingly common, but can be hard to cope with. A woman experiencing mood swings may feel like she is on a rollercoaster of emotions: one minute she’s up, the next minute she’s down. Mood swings can be sudden and intense, although the experience of them may differ from woman to woman.
Chronic and severe mood swings are a psychological disorder, a health problem every bit as real as a physical ailment. They are caused primarily by hormonal imbalances; when production of the hormone estrogen drops, so too does the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters, resulting in mood swings. Other menopause symptoms can also have a negative influence on mood, such as fatigue. Therefore, targeting the underlying hormonal imbalance is one of the most effective ways of reducing menopausal mood swings.
Fatigue, one of the most common menopause symptoms, is defined as an ongoing and persistent feeling of weakness, tiredness, and lowered energy levels, rather than just sleepiness or drowsiness. Other characteristics of fatigue may include apathy, irritability, and decreased attention span. Crashing fatigue is a phenomenon which comes on suddenly, leaving a woman devoid of energy and unable to continue her activity.
Fatigue in menopause is caused by hormonal changes; hormones such as estrogen regulate energy use at a cellular level, so when hormone levels drops during menopause, so too do energy levels. Chronic fatigue in menopause can have a drastic impact on daily life, putting a strain on relationships, work productivity, and quality of life, so treating the underlying hormonal imbalance is essential to restore energy levels.
10. Difficulty Concentrating
In the lead-up to menopause, many women are concerned to find they have trouble remembering things, experience mental blocks, or have difficulty concentrating. This can be confusing or worrying for women, and can have a big impact on all aspects of daily life. The main reason why these symptoms occur during menopause is hormonal imbalance, specifically estrogen deficiency. However, not getting enough sleep or sleep disruptions can also contribute to memory problems and cause difficulty concentrating, as well as the nagging pain of other physiological menopause symptoms.
After underlying medical conditions have been ruled out as a cause of disorientation, confusion, or lack of concentration, then it is important to check hormone levels. Targeting and treating the underlying hormonal imbalance will help a woman overcome difficulty concentrating.
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Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disorder, characterized by thinning and weakening of the bone and a general decrease in bone mass and density. Menopause negatively affects bone growth. Normally, bones go through a process whereby old bone is replaced with new bone cells, but the body’s ability to handle this process changes with age. By around age 35 there is less bone growth than there is bone removal.
Estrogen is involved in the process of calcium absorption into the bones; thus, due to the drop in estrogen levels, women will experience an accelerated reduction in bone density from perimenopause onwards. This disorder is called osteoporosis. Reduced bone density means that bones are much more susceptible to breaks and fractures.
Source: HealthLine & 34-menopause-symptoms.com