Recognizing the Symptoms of Menopause
You're tired, irritable, moody and generally feel off. Sometimes you wake up drenched and have trouble concentrating on routine tasks. And unlike PMS, this condition persists. You're not going crazy and you’re not alone. Gwyneth Paltrow recently shared that she was feeling moody and would unexpectedly break into a sweat before realizing that she was experiencing symptoms of menopause.
Perimenopause and menopause symptoms can be moderate or severe. You may experience a number of issues before you actually enter menopause, which occurs a year after you've stopped menstruation. While the process may sound dire, you don't have to suffer without help. Recognizing your symptoms is the first step toward finding relief and reassurance.
General Physical Symptoms
Perimenopause and menopause symptoms are similar. Going through both phases can take years, possibly a decade or more. During those years, you are likely to experience a number of typical symptoms caused by your ovaries creating less estrogen than before. When this hormone level drops or fluctuates, it can produce a number of unpleasant side effects. Many women are caught off guard by their symptoms because menopause is not routinely discussed. We don’t learn about menopause in health class, mothers often don’t talk about it with their daughters, and even doctors are unprepared and unlikely to discuss it with patients.
Women should know what to expect and who they can talk to for advice on treatments. Physical signs that you are in perimenopause and menopause include the following:
- Hot Flashes
Hot flashes are a sudden feeling of intense heat, often on the face, neck and chest, causing you to flush and often perspire. After the flash ends, you may become chilled. These flashes may happen only a few times a week or multiple times a day. In some cases, they can make it difficult to carry out your daily duties.
- Night Sweats
Night sweats are a result of hot flashes that occur while you sleep. These hot flashes can cause you to sweat profusely and become so drenched in some cases that you’re forced to change clothes and sheets. . As a result, your sleep patterns are disrupted and other symptoms become worse.
Statistics show that many women, up to 57%, experience some degree of insomnia in perimenopause and menopause. Symptoms such as night sweats contribute to this problem. You may be able to fall asleep without a problem but not be able to stay asleep. Lower hormone levels may also shorten your REM sleep, which results in lower quality sleep.
- Weight Gain
Women experiencing perimenopause and menopause tend to gain weight in the abdominal area. The loss of estrogen often leads to an increase in new fat accumulation and a redistribution of fat from other body parts to the belly. You might find this phenomenon is a blow to your self-image as well as a danger to your health, as increased belly fat puts you at a higher risk for diabetes and other metabolic disorders.
- Aging Skin
Your decreased estrogen levels lead to thinning skin and a loss of elasticity. Your skin will be more likely to sag and develop wrinkles. You may also notice that any wounds you experience will heal more slowly.
- Thinning Hair
As you go through these stages, you may notice hair thinning caused by the changes in hormones. Lower levels of estrogen and progesterone, hormones that promote healthy hair growth and retention, mean that your hair will grow more slowly and, in some instances, fall out more quickly. Women tend to experience overall thinning instead of bald spots. Your hair might grow back to some degree in the post-menopausal period.
An increase in male hormones also occurs at this time, which contributes to hair loss on your scalp and increased facial hair.
Women going through perimenopause and menopause sometimes feel a loss of a sense of control over their emotions, especially if they don't know what to expect. Cognitive struggles (sometimes called a “brain fog”) are tied to lower hormone levels, but they are temporary. Mental health is extremely important and should be addressed with your medical professional if it’s affecting your life. You can get medical help to deal with these problems.
- Memory Loss and Foggy Thinking
Common cognitive concerns in perimenopause include difficulty concentrating on work tasks, emembering names, and learning new material. You may misplace things a little more often and struggle with finding the right word. Medical experts believe that the loss of estrogen contributes to these issues; luckily the memory issues are usually temporary. If cognitive concerns are severe enough to impair your daily life, please see your health care provider for a full work up.
- Changing Moods
The hormonal ups and downs of perimenopause and the decline in estrogen in menopause can trigger mood swings and irritability. This frustrating emotional roller coaster can at times feel exhausting - with feelings of joy one moment and sadness the next.
Women in midlife are at a higher risk of depressive symptoms, depression and anxiety - especially if they have a history of depression and anxiety in the past. While mood disorders may be associated with other aspects of aging, research has shown that lower levels of estrogen play a role. Mood symptoms in perimenopause and menopause should be thoroughly discussed with your health care provider.
Many women find the changes to their sexuality the most uncomfortable. What came so naturally just a few years before becomes more challenging due to physical and psychological challenges.
- Vaginal Symptoms
The drop in estrogen stimulation of the vaginal tissues can lead to reduced blood flow, thinning of vaginal tissue, dryness, and discomfort. As a result, you can experience burning, itching, and pain with intimacy. Natural lubrication often declines. Studies show that maintaining a regular sex life can help keep the blood flowing, which will reduce these symptoms.
- Loss of Libido
Sexual desire may wane during this time of life, although that doesn't mean you lose interest in your partner. Intimate relationships can thrive in menopause.
- Urinary Tract Difficulties
While you go through perimenopause and menopause, you may notice urinary tract issues, such as leakage and incontinence. The loss of estrogen can weaken your bladder muscle and the surrounding tissues. You might not realize how full your bladder is or be able to completely control it, resulting in urinary incontinence. The decline in estrogen stimulation to the urethra (the opening of the bladder) can lead to an increased susceptibility for bladder infections. While you may find this problem particularly distressing, you are not alone as the dozens of bladder control pads at the supermarket attest.
So What Can We Do?
Women have been conditioned not to discuss their menopausal symptoms, so a sense of isolation can develop.
If you are going through perimenopause or menopause, you need the support of other women as well as knowledgeable, caring healthcare professionals. While certainly challenging, menopause is absolutely normal. It's an inevitable part of womanhood, just as puberty is. It’s quite possible to make the second half of your life just as fulfilling as the first - as long as you seek the support you need. The wisdom we gain from the first half sets the stage for the joy and contentment in the second. Demand from life the quality you desire. CurieMD can help you discover solutions. .
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or have questions, book a safe and secure online appointment with one of our physicians.