The Symptoms of Menopause
Generally, we often think that the main symptoms of menopause are hot flashes, mood swings and a greater tendency to be irritable or sensitive. However, this isn’t quite so. At this stage, the woman’s body undergoes various changes (both physical and psychological) and, although they may well experience the symptoms we’ve already mentioned, there are others they could suffer from too.
As a result, not all women who go through the menopause will experience infamous mood swings or be irritable most of the time. They may have ups and downs, but, again, these don’t have to be as obvious as people often assume.
Of course, the way in which the symptoms appear, as well as their intensity and the consequences, may vary from one woman to another.
When seeing their doctors, women who are going through menopause usually report the symptoms that we’re now going to mention.
Irregularities in the menstrual cycle
As a woman approaches perimenopause (that is, the period leading up to menopause), she may begin to notice irregularities in her menstrual cycle.
These include shorter or longer periods, either heavier or lighter, as well as the period disappearing only to return again several months later (the latter can occur several times throughout menopause). There’s no specific pattern, as it varies from woman to woman.
Hot flashes and night sweats
According to North American Menopause Society ( NAMS ) publications, hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause. And, according to the figures in the MSD Manual, the incidence could be between 75 and 85%.
They are characterized by causing facial redness, and a sensation of heat and sweating. In addition, they can bring other discomforts such as fatigue, headache, irritability, problems sleeping and concentrating, among others.
These usually begin to appear before menstruation completely stops. In addition, they can occur at any time of the day, but, when they do so at night, they’re called “night sweats.”
While there are times when hot flashes can be mild, they can also be difficult to cope with or even debilitating. The good news is that, as time goes on, they tend to fade.
Experts don’t fully understand why some women experience severe hot flashes for many years and why others don’t have them at all, or have them for shorter periods of time with less intensity.
Vaginal dryness and urinary problems
Changes in their intimate area are also common in women who are close to going through menopause, as well as those who are already in this stage. Thus, discomfort in the vagina or vulva can occur at any time. Unlike hot flashes, however, they don’t get better over time.
The main cause of this would be the decrease in estrogens. As a consequence of this decrease, the vagina loses elasticity and lubrication, and its pH increases. Therefore, it tends to dry out and this is what causes pain, itching, burning, and uncomfortable sexual intercourse.
- All these symptoms can be grouped under the name vaginal atrophy.
- When accompanied by gallbladder problems after menopause, the symptoms are called genitourinary syndrome of menopause.
- Due to changes in the intimate area, women may be more prone to vaginal infections.
Loss or decrease of libido
Vaginal atrophy (the decrease in the size of the sexual organs – labia minora, clitoris, uterus, and ovaries), combined with the ups and downs that other symptoms of menopause can cause, can cause a decrease in libido or even mean that a woman loses it entirely.
As a consequence of changes in the vascular system, menopausal women are likely to be more prone to headaches and even migraines.
It’s believed that hot flashes may have some influence on women’s sleep, as they usually report both difficulty falling asleep (mainly because the heat doesn’t let them sleep) and difficulties sleeping (constant awakenings due to the sensation of heat, etc.).
However, stress could also play a key role in insomnia.
Due to the decrease in estrogens, another of the symptoms of menopause that can appear is an increase in body fat and a decrease in muscle mass.
While it can be difficult to lose weight during menopause, it is possible to do so. In order to do this, practicing exercise on a daily basis is highly recommended.
As the body ages and undergoes various changes, it’s normal for cognitive abilities to be impaired. In the case of menopause, it’s common for women to become more forgetful, and have greater difficulty concentrating.
However, with good lifestyle habits, it’s possible to mitigate the impact of cognitive changes and even gain more skill and expertise.
Emotional ups and downs are part of the symptoms of menopause. This is closely related to the hormonal changes that occur in the body. These generally make menopausal women more likely to be more sensitive to sad or happy situations, and more prone to anger.
- Irritability and hypersensitivity are commonly discussed in appointments.
- In some cases, mood swings may be related to mood disorders (even pre-menopause).
- Mood swings can be managed with psychological therapy.
All these changes in the body can also cause fatigue. For this reason, it isn’t an uncommon symptom at all. It’s usually temporary.
In addition to the aforementioned menopausal symptoms, the following may also occur in some cases. However, these are usually rare.
- Hair loss
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle and joint pain
Although menopause can go smoothly with a healthy lifestyle and proper medical control, in some cases it could cause some complications. Some of these would be the following:
- Heavy bleeding
- Cardiovascular disease
When should you go to the doctor?
Don’t wait until your menopausal symptoms are hard to cope with before going to the doctor. It’s preferable that you get in touch with them as soon as you begin to notice them. This will help them to employ the most appropriate measures in order to mitigate their impact.
“Menopausia Precoz o Prematura | Oficina Para La Salud de La Mujer.” n.d. Accessed June 9, 2021. https://espanol.womenshealth.gov/menopause/early-or-premature-menopause.
Pinkerton, JoAnn. 2019. “Menopausia – Salud Femenina.” Manual MSD Versión Para Público General. 2019. https://www.msdmanuals.com/es/hogar/salud-femenina/menopausia/menopausia?query=Menopausia.
“Salud de La Mujer.” n.d. Sociedad Norteamericana de Menopausia (NAMS). Accessed June 10, 2021. http://www.menopause.org/publications/consumer-publications/nams-le-da-la-bienvenida-a-sus-lectores-hispanos.