Am I in menopause?
Menopause can bring a variety of unpleasant physical and emotional changes. While symptoms and their severity tend to vary from person to person, many occur commonly.
Perimenopause: your early warning system
During perimenopause, menstrual periods become less predictable—happening more often than monthly or infrequently, becoming heavier or lighter. Other, “vasomotor” symptoms often appear in perimenopause. These signal your body’s preparation for menopause, and usually disappear over time.
A number of factors can increase the frequency of vasomotor symptoms, including being overweight.
Primary symptoms such as hot flashes are those brought on directly by hormonal fluctuations in the body.
They may last between six months and two years—or in rare cases as long as 10 years. Secondary symptoms occur as a result of other physical changes associated with aging.
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- sleep disturbances
- anxiety attacks
- difficulty concentrating
- memory loss
- mood swings
Symptoms up close
Difficulty sleeping is one hallmark of the menopause transition. Two major sleep disorders often occur during menopause: sleep apnea and insomnia. Women may find themselves waking up repeatedly with hot flashes and have difficulty falling back to sleep. Often, women turn to behavioural therapies such as relaxation therapy, bedtime rituals, biofeedback and cognitive therapy to treat sleep disturbances. Non-prescription therapies such as valerian, phytoestrogens and St. John’s Wort are also options for treatment. In many cases, progesterone has proven effective in the treatment of mild obstructive sleep apnea.
Mood swings and memory loss
Memory loss can be a challenge in menopause: as women age, they may have difficulty acquiring and encoding new information. Mood swings is another challenge. The most prevalent mood symptoms during perimenopause include irritability, tearfulness, anxiety, depression, and lack of motivation and energy. These symptoms can often be linked to sleep disorders. Antidepressents may provide some relief and in some cases are also helpful to treat hot flashes.
Women gain an average of four to nine pounds during menopause. Research shows that neither short-term nor long-term hormone therapy influences body weight. Women can control weight gain by reducing the amount of fat in their diet, lowering their daily caloric intake and adding regular exercise to their routine.
Joint pain and skin changes
Joint pain is a common complaint among women during their menopausal transition. Hormone therapy may provide some relief but physical activity is a woman’s best therapeutic option. Women may also experience changes to their skin—often in response to sun exposure, smoking or hormonal changes. Hormone therapy can help limit collagen loss in the skin and help maintain the skin’s thickness.
Eye and oral health
As part of the natural aging process and due to hormonal fluctuations, women experience changes in eye function. To date, evidence is unclear about the effects of hormone therapy on eye disorders. HT has, however, proven effective in preventing dental pain, and decreasing tooth mobility and periodontal pockets. That said, HT is not recommended solely as a treatment for oral health difficulties.
Menopause: signs and symptoms
Once 12 consecutive months have passed without a menstrual period, menopause has occurred. In the years that follow, certain “urogenital” symptoms may develop progressively in the years or decades following menopause:
- vaginal dryness
- vaginal discharge
- vaginal bleeding
- urinary infections that keep returning
- loss of bladder control (urge and stress incontinence)
- a decrease or loss of sex drive (libido)
Studies suggest that only about one-third of those suffering from moderate to severe vaginal discomfort seek treatment.
Think you may be approaching or in menopause? Take our Diagnostic Quiz.
Woman today have options for preventing or minimizing menopause symptoms so they don’t get in the way of an active lifestyle.