Changes to your hormones during menopause and perimenopause can have a lot of effects on your body. You won’t necessarily develop all of them, but here are 12 of the most common menopause symptoms and why they occur:
|12 Most Common Symptoms of Menopause
Hot flashes are one of the “classic” symptoms of menopause. They refer to sudden, intense feelings of heat and are often accompanied by sweating and facial flushing. This can last for a matter of seconds or several minutes (although it may feel a lot longer, especially if you are embarrassed or distressed by the situation).
Hot flashes can be linked to lower estrogen levels. (1) It’s thought that this can make it harder for your body to keep a stable temperature. As blood vessels close to the surface of your skin widen in an attempt to cool you down, it encourages your body to start sweating.
There are no set patterns with regard to how long hot flashes occur. Some women only experience them in the short term but they can potentially last for years, even in postmenopause.
Some women experience hot flashes that occur in the night. These episodes are referred to as night sweats. As with hot flashes, the causes of night sweats can be linked to hormone changes and problems in regulating body temperature. Many women find that they become drenched in sweat and need to change clothes or sheets, even if their bedroom is cool. Night sweats can wake you up and have a significant effect on your sleep patterns.
It is also very common that the wall of the vagina becomes thinner during menopause and natural lubrication is decreased. This can make the vagina more sensitive and can lead to discomfort, especially during intercourse. It can also increase the chances of developing vaginal infections or urinary tract Infections (UTIs). The vagina can also change structurally and become shorter and narrower.
While many menopause symptoms start to reduce in postmenopause, vaginal dryness can become more severe.  Multiple options for vaginal dryness and atrophy (thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vagina due to the loss of estrogen) exist and range from lubricants, estrogen therapy and other vaginal moisturizers. For a select few it can also improve over time, regardless of whether estrogen therapy is delivered. Click here for more in-depth information on vaginal dryness
It’s not uncommon to feel as those you are experiencing something similar to Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) during menopause.A sudden and chronic dip in your mood can be another sign of menopause. Emotional changes are a common occurrence and can include irritability, depression, anxiety, and anger. Women describe this as weepiness, rage, or annoyance among other descriptors.
Mood swings can be more common during perimenopause and tend to be less severe in postmenopause. Estrogen hasn’t been confirmed as a direct cause of menopausal mood swings, but it’s thought that the effects menopause has on day-to-day life and wellbeing could be an indirect culprit .
Hair loss is commonly linked to hormonal changes of the thyroid, androgens and estrogen levels. Thyroid hormone levels are well known to correlate with hair loss and can be checked by your prescriber or by requesting a test kit from the pharmacist at Coast to Coast Compounding. Lower estrogen levels can result in thinner hair and hair loss, especially when it’s coupled with a rise in testosterone. Estrogen and progesterone are both involved in supporting healthy hair growth and lower levels during menopause can affect hair follicles . At the same time, higher levels of testosterone or it’s metabolites can reduce the growth phase. Hair growth is often thinner and slower than before, and hair loss can occur.
Menopause can have a significant impact on sleep, especially during perimenopause. Hot flashes and night sweats are an obvious factor but many women find that they struggle falling asleep or wake up repeatedly during the night regardless of whether they experience hot flashes or not. Some patients report a “middle of the night awakening” where they find themselves awake and alert at 3am. In some studies, a combination of lower estrogen levels and higher levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) have been linked to sleep problems . However, there are various hormonal changes that may be linked to this along with age-related sleep problems.
Feeling tired and drained can affect a lot of women in menopause. It can range from a fairly mild sense of fatigue to an overwhelming exhaustion that significantly affects day-to-day life. Hormone changes are a strong factor in menopausal fatigue but there can be other reasons too. Adrenal hormone issues may also be present during perimenopause and menopause and your doctor or pharmacist can do testing to measure your cortisol levels or perform a salivary 4-point cortisol profile from the pharmacists at Coast to Coast Compounding. Even if you strongly suspect that your symptoms are due to menopause, speak to your doctor to rule out these type of causes of fatigue.
Fatigue can be a byproduct of many menopause symptoms, including poor sleep, mood changes, and hot flashes. The latter can also contribute to dehydration, especially if you sweat a lot during hot flashes and night sweats.
Metabolism slows down during menopause and many women find that they gain weight, especially around their midsection. Animal studies have indicated that estrogen may play a role in weight control and this may be why weight gain becomes more apparent when estrogen levels decline .
Many women find that their nails become thin, brittle, and more prone to breaking, splitting, or tearing during menopause. One of estrogen’s less obvious roles is linked to stable fluid levels in the body . Estrogen has a role in regulating water levels in the body and when less is produced during menopause, it can make dehydration more of a problem. Falling estrogen levels can affect the nails and dehydrate them thus, making them brittle. Just like the rest of the body, the nails need water to keep them healthy.
Erratic hormone levels can lead to sore and painful breasts during menopause. The irregular nature of the menstrual cycle in perimenopause can be a factor. Fluid buildup in the breasts prior to menstruation can contribute to breast pain and irregular periods can mean that breast pain occurs out of the blue.
As well as pain and tenderness, you may also notice some differences in the shape and size of your breasts during perimenopause, including lumpiness. Lower estrogen levels can lead to a decline in glandular tissue in the breasts, which can affect denseness and fullness.
For many women, breast pain will start to reduce after menstrual periods have not occurred for at least a year.
In the early stages of perimenopause, there is usually little change in bone density but this can start to change in late perimenopause . Low estrogen and progesterone levels can reduce bone density, which can increase the risk factor for developing osteoporosis in the future.
Menopause is one of the biggest factors in bone loss as women get older and can continue for up to 10 years. As much as a fifth of bone loss can occur in this time frame, largely because bone breakdown can significantly outweigh the building of new bone .
Research from the University of California indicates that up to 60% of women experience short term memory issues during menopause . This can affect learning, recall and memory .
Fuzzy thinking and “brain fog” can be extreme – some women become worried that they’re developing dementia.. Fortunately, it tends to be a temporary issue that starts to resolve itself after menopause but it can certainly be very scary. Research from the University of California in 2009, found that most women regained cognitive function after they came out of menopause .