The menopausal years, also known as the climacteric phase (which includes perimenopause, menopause and post menopause), are a time in every woman’s life. We all go through this. The time is characterised by a decline in the production of the female sex hormones, fertility and a drop in the frequency of menstrual cycles. The menopausal period presents with various physical, emotional, and biological symptoms. There are some common menopause symptoms, but the impact of these menopause symptoms differs from one woman to another. Every woman’s menopause is different.
The menopause occurs one year after a woman’s last menstrual period. For women in the UK, the average age of menopause is 51. Symptoms often start in the years leading up to this, known as the perimenopause. The average age of the start of perimenopause in UK women, is 45.
Perimenopause symptoms are a direct mimic of the menopause symptoms. This means it’s not easy to clearly distinguish the perimenopause phase and the menopausal period. You will only know that you have reached your menopause retrospectively – when you have not had a period for 12 months.
Some common menopause symptoms (and perimenopausal ones) are irregular periods, hot flushes, anxiety, weight gain and night sweats.
Here, in no particular order, are a few of the most common menopause and perimenopause symptoms.
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Research estimates that over 80% of women in their menopausal phase experience extreme hot flushes and night sweats, especially at night. This is one of the most common menopause symptoms.
On average, 55% of women experience hot flashes before the onset of irregular periods. The flashes peak in the late menopausal phase and later decline as the phase comes to an end.
A hot flush is a sensation of extreme heat, especially in the upper part of the body. Red patches on your arms, chest, and back, sudden heat in the upper body, night sweats, and a flushed face characterise the menopausal phase.
Typically, heart palpitations and migraines accompany hot flushes. In some women, the hot flushes they may induce insomnia and fatigue.
Women in their menopausal phase experience irregular periods characterised by:
- Extremely heavy or light periods.
- Irregular spotting.
- Unpredictable periods.
- Longer or shorter periods.
- Period resumption after one year without a period.
- Increased frequency in menstruation.
Due to irregular periods, women in this age group find it challenging to conceive and hold a pregnancy to term.
Weight gain, particularly around the abdomen, can happen in the perimenopause and menopause years. Weight gain, due to metabolic changes and water retention caused by low oestrogen levels, is a common menopause symptom. Additionally, there is a reduction in muscle mass and an increase in fats, and a variance in its distribution.
Reduced Bone Mass
A decline in oestrogen during the menopausal period causes a reduction in bone density. The latter, coupled with weight gain, predisposes one to bone fractures and osteoporosis. Furthermore, women within this age bracket may struggle with muscle aches and stiff joints.
The urogenital tissues are sensitive to oestrogen and progesterone. A decline in oestrogen and progesterone levels inhibits mucus production, thus inducing vaginal dryness. Reports indicate that about 50% of women experience vaginal dryness during the menopausal phase. This can cause pain and discomfort during sexual intercourse.
Reduced female secretions alter the vaginal pH. This can lead to a higher propensity to contract urinary tract infections.
Changes in Hair and Skin
Oestrogen plays an indispensable role in the maintenance of healthy hair and skin. A reduction in oestrogen levels can result in thinning hair volume, hair fragility and a rough texture. It also affects skin, causing it to lose its elasticity and vibrant nature, especially around the mouth, eyes and elbows.
Women with menopause symptoms often complain of reduced libido. Such a characteristic is attributed to a decline in the female sex hormones and vaginal dryness that make it painful to engage in intercourse.
Irritability and Sudden Mood Changes
Depression and anxiety are common menopause symptoms. Women report feelings of foreboding, forgetfulness and brain fog, as well as loss of confidence and tearfulness.
Insomnia and hormonal changes play a role in the sudden mood change and irritability. If this is affecting you, talk to your GP to find out the best course of action.
Women in the menopausal phase may experience periods of memory loss. Common incidents include forgetting where the car keys are – and then finding them in the fridge! Women also report forgetting words mid-sentence. All of this is normal. However, if the memory loss becomes more frequent or impairs your day-to-day activities, seek medical help.
Difficulty in Concentration and Learning
Recent research indicates that about 67% of women with menopausal symptoms find it difficult to concentrate or learn a new concept.