All too often over the past year I have woken up in the middle of the night, thrown off the covers and pretty much get naked – even in cold weather – to deal with another hot flash. I can sit back and laugh about it now but even though I now find it amusing, the symptoms of menopause are anything but funny. The intensity of the symptoms of menopause can also range depending on the woman.
Although menopause may only be present within me right now, it’s important to remember that one day other women will be headed toward the same rosy-faced fate. It’s, therefore, wise to learn as much as you can about this natural phenomenon in order to be well prepared when your time comes and also be able to offer assistance rather than indifference to those around you who may be suffering.
What is menopause?
In simple terms, menopause occurs when a woman’s menstrual cycle ends. It also signifies the conclusion of a woman’s child-bearing days. To get a little more technical, when a woman’s ovaries no longer release an egg every month, this causes their cycle to end and ignites the onset of menopause. (1)
It generally occurs in women aged 40 or older; however, depending on the circumstances, some may go through the change earlier. This is referred to as premature menopause.
What causes it?
While the naturally declining reproductive hormones—estrogen and progesterone, known for regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle and the releasing of eggs—is usually to blame for menopause, there are various other possible causes. (1)
These may include the following:
- Surgical removal of ovaries (oophorectomy): Due to health issues, some women may have to undergo an oophorectomy. By removing the ovaries, your period will immediately be brought to an end, and menopause will be given the green light.
- Primary ovarian insufficiency: Genetics and autoimmune disease can affect the ability of the ovaries to produce sufficient levels of reproductive hormones. Failure to do so can, in turn, spur on menopause earlier than anticipated—premature menopause—as mentioned above.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy: Cancer therapies can induce menopause due to the effect they can have on the function of the ovaries. While menopause may not present itself immediately, there’s definitely a risk if radiation, for example, directly on the ovaries rather than another body part. (1)
If you’re on the lookout for any signs and symptoms, it’s important to note that the latter can differ depending on the age of the individual and their personal health complications. The most common signs, however, are as follows:
If you’ve felt the need to urinate more often than usual, this may be a result of menopause-related incontinence. The latter can be caused by several different changes within the body when menopause strikes. These symptoms usually come with or cause incontinence:
- Weakened pelvic floor muscles: Past trauma inflicted upon your pelvic muscles—such as pregnancy, childbirth, or surgeries—can be exacerbated when menopause begins, ultimately leading to loss of bladder control.
- Estrogen depletion: This can also cause bladder control issues.
- Pelvic organ prolapses: This refers to drooping pelvic floor organs that can affect the functionality of your bladder and corresponding organs. The additional strain placed upon your pelvic floor can induce symptoms of incontinence.
- Urethra lining thinning: Estrogen depletion can also cause your urethra to thin and become vulnerable to infections which can lead to urinary incontinence.
- Weight gain: Added pressure on the pelvis can contribute to incontinence.
- Decreased bladder elasticity: This refers to the inability of the bladder to hold as much urine as it once did.
If you’re affected by any of the above problems, there are various ways to lessen the severity and discomfort of incontinence, including investing in incontinence underwear such as Knix and other providers.
If your periods are presenting themselves in odd and irregular manners, this may be indicative of menopause hiding just around the corner. Signs may include:
- more or less frequent periods,
- heavier or lighter periods, or
- periods that last longer or shorter than usual. (2)
If you experience any spotting, heavy bleeding, or periods that last longer than a year, it might be wise to consult with your local doctor as menopause may not be the culprit.
Hot flashes and chills
Hot flashes and chills are typically known to occur just before and in the first stages of menopause. The hot sensation can develop around the face, neck, and chest and also be accompanied by a feeling of nausea. The duration of a hot flash may differ; and depending on the person, they usually last only a few minutes.
Reddened skin, increased sweating, elevated heart rate, and mood drops may also occur as the hot flash does, which is sometimes followed by chills. In order to lessen the discomfort, it’s recommended to remain in cooler areas, use aids such as fans (handheld or electric), manage your stress levels, wear light layers, and also monitor what you eat and drink as these can affect the severity and frequency.
If you’ve been awoken by a sudden burst of heat throughout your face and chest region while attempting to sleep, forcing you to throw off your blankets and reach for a glass of water, you may be experiencing what’s referred to as night sweats. The latter is basically the same as daytime hot flashes but instead occur during the night.
Sleep problems (insomnia)
Night sweats aren’t the only sleep-disrupting menopausal symptoms that you may be forced to endure. Menopause is also believed to increase your chances of insomnia, which can lead to feelings of anxiety and irritability, as well as headaches, inflammation, and focus impairment.
Postmenopausal women have also reported altered breathing while sleeping such as snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. While causes may vary, the decreased level of progesterone in postmenopausal women is considered a contributing factor as it can affect how relaxed the upper airways are. Obviously, if airway passages are too relaxed, lapses in breathing can occur. (3)
Vaginal dryness and sensitivity
If you’ve noticed your southern regions becoming more prone to sensitivity, including dryness, this may be indicative of menopausal changes within your body, which is indicative of lowered estrogen levels. This symptom usually occurs after menopause; however, it can present itself earlier.
In order to lessen the severity, moisturizers and/or lubricants are recommended, especially if engaging in sexual activity.
You may already suffer from the occasional mood swing that forces your partner to pop on his headphones and blast loud music. If, however, you suspect that your mood swings aren’t just the result of a bad day but something more serious, it may be wise to look into menopausal-caused emotional changes.
This is because menopause directly affects your hormone levels, which in turn can affect your emotional and mental functions. If anxiety, depression, irritability, or a general feeling of melancholia seems to be swallowing up your days or weeks, you may also be suffering from menopause.
Hormonal imbalances and shifts during menopause can cause hair to thin and fall out, again due to lowered levels of estrogen and progesterone production. The decrease of the latter can also increase the production of the male hormone androgen. This hormone can shrink follicles and in turn contribute to hair loss. In some cases, however, women will experience the opposite effect and develop hair on their faces, especially their chins.
It may not just be your snacking contributing to your expanding waistline—menopause can also have a hand in it. As explored above, declining estrogen levels can impact several bodily functions, including the distribution of fat. This is why many women experience weight gain, especially around the abdominal area when going through menopause. Other contributions to weight gain after or during menopause may include:
- age-related loss of muscle tissue,
- unhealthy diets,
- lack of exercise,
- family history of weight problems,
- number of children,
- lowered metabolic rate, or
- use of certain medications. (4)
Estrogen is known for stimulating the formation of skin-smoothing collagens and oils. Menopause, therefore, can lead to dry and itchy skin, as your skin’s ability to retain moisture is compromised due to the shifting ratios of hormones within your body.
As touched earlier, your physical body can undergo various changes when menopause hits. Therefore, it’s wise to keep track of any odd fluctuations in weight and/or soreness. Changes may include:
- reduction in breast fullness,
- soreness in breasts,
- thinner skin,
- weight gain, or
- stiff and achy joints and muscles. (2)
Later signs and symptoms
If you’ve been able to ignore or lessen the severity of the latter symptoms somehow, you may expect the following to present themselves after you’ve had menopause for a while:
- Depression and anxiety
- Racing heart
- Changes in libido (1)
If you suspect that menopause is knocking on your door but aren’t 100% sure, it’s wise to keep an eye out for the telltale signs discussed in this post. Once you better understand the possible symptoms, you’ll be able to management these symptoms as you enter another chapter in your life.
- “Menopause”, Source: https://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/menopause-basics
- “What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Menopause?”, Source: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-signs-and-symptoms-menopause
- “Menopause and Sleep”, Source: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/women-sleep/menopause-and-sleep
- “Menopause and weight gain”, Source: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/menopause-and-weight-gain