35 Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause is a natural phase of change all women experience. It officially marks the end of fertility and menstruation as the ovaries reduce production of the sex hormones; estrogen and progesterone. There are a range of symptoms women may experience during this phase, and although this change happens to us all, no two women will have the exact same experience.
There are three stages of this change; Peri-Menopause, Menopause and Post-Menopause.
Peri-Menopause is when most symptoms are experienced and can last for 8-10 before menopause actually occurs. Menopause is the final menstrual period a women experiences and when a women hasn’t had a period in over 12-months, they are then Post-Menopausal.
The change phase can present itself with a variety of symptoms due to the drastic changes in hormonal stability. Some women will only experience mild symptoms while others may experience them more severely. Every women’s experience through this phase of their lives is as unique as they are themselves.
The symptoms of this phase include biological, physical, mental, emotional and sexual. It can be a confusing, confronting and frustrating time of our lives, however, as the stigma around these changes begins to lift, there is more information and support for women on this journey.
We are covering 35 of the main symptoms women experience through this change. A reminder; you may experience all or none of these symptoms at varying levels and for different timeframes.
Your experience is your own and if you are concerned, please seek medical support. This guide is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.
Irregularities in your menstrual cycle can happen throughout our lives for a range of reasons. However, if you are in your 40’s and notice changes to your regular menstrual cycle patterns, this could be the first sign of menopause. These irregularities happen due to the declining levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body, this can cause your change the frequency of which you have a period and also effect the flow and duration.
One of the most common symptoms of menopause, hot flushes are a sudden feeling of intense heat, resulting in sweating or chills. It can cause redness of the face and neck and is not related to external factors and temperature.
Many women experience frequent hot flushes at night resulting in night sweats. Waking up sweating and feeling extremely hot in the middle of the night, not only interfere with your sleeping pattern but can also add stress and fatigue to your daily routines. Caused by the same hormonal imbalance as hot flushes, night sweats can be improved by wearing airy cotton pyjamas and changing bed linen to cotton.
If you feel fatigued despite spending 8 hours in bed every night, this could be another symptom of menopause. Menopause-related fatigue can affect productivity, sleep quality and mood, increasing your stress levels.
Memory Loss and Brain Fog
A drop in the levels of estrogen and progesterone production can lead to memory loss and brain fog. Combined with fatigue or restless nights due to other menopause symptoms this is a very common symptom. However most women find that their memory improves as they transition completely into menopause.
Inability to Focus
Along with memory loss and brain fog, fluctuating hormone levels can also cause difficulty in concentrating or focusing. You will likely notice these symptoms during the early phases of perimenopause. However, poor sleep and mood swings can also be contributing factors.
Many menopausal women experience frequent headaches, which are linked to waning levels of estrogen. These headaches might be mild to begin with, but can become more intense as hormone levels continue to drop with advancing menopause.
Many women experiencing menopause report sleep-related disturbances as a symptom. This could be night sweats, insomnia, sleep-disordered breathing or a sense of anxiety, all of which disrupt a healthy sleep pattern.
Hormone levels changes can also cause dizziness. These spells come suddenly and could pass in a few minutes or even become extended. If you are feeling more dizzy than usual, be aware of the risk of falling or accidents when driving or operating machinery.
The natural decline in estrogen levels during menopause can make vaginal tissue become dryer and thinner. The dryness of the vaginal tissue can also cause irritation more easily which makes the area more susceptible to infections.
Loss of Libido
Changing hormone levels can decrease sex drive, the time it takes a women to become aroused, her sensitivity and how she experiences orgasms. This is a symptoms not often spoken about, however, many women report that this is a great time to look at deepening your intimacy with your partner and experiment with new ways to connect.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
As vaginal tissue becomes dryer and thinner, the area becomes more susceptible to bacterial infections. Which is why UTI’s are so common in women going through this change. Weakening of vaginal walls with waning levels of estrogen allows bacteria easier access to the bladder, leading to urinary tract infections that could affect the bladder.
Falling levels of estrogen during menopause can cause thinning of the urethra and urinary bladder. You may notice you have to use the bathroom more frequently. Sometimes, weakened pelvic muscles can also cause urinary leakage when you laugh, sneeze, cough, lift something heavy, or during rigorous activity.
Another very common symptom is bloating. As estrogen levels fluctuate the body may retain more water and fluids. When tissues hold on to water, it causes bloating that comes with a feeling of fullness, heaviness and tightness around the belly.
Lower estrogen reduces the buffer against the stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline. Higher levels of cortisol in the blood signal to the brain that you are in danger, leading to non-essential functions like digestion being temporarily stopped, upsetting your digestive routine. You could experience abdominal pain or discomfort, constipation, bloating and other digestive problems while your hormones are out of balance.
Menopause related weight gain can come on suddenly and surprise many women. Hormonal imbalances can lead to unexplained weight gain as well as loss of muscle mass. Many women notice this weight gain around the belly. Researchers have found that eating healthy and regularly exercising can reduce sudden weight fluctuations.
Thinning of Hair
Healthy hair follicles need estrogen for growth which is why the reduced levels during this phase can lead to hair thinning and even falling out. Many women report their hair becoming dryer and more susceptible to breakage.
Estrogen isn’t only vital for healthy hair but also nails. Low levels can cause brittle nails as they become weaker and dryer. They may break more easily and not grow as quickly.
Body Odour Changes
Menopause can affect a woman’s natural scent. Excessive sweating can lead to bad body odour, making good personal hygiene extremely important. The changes in hormones can also effect the natural bacteria that is always present on our skin.
Serotonin and GABA levels are greatly affected but the changing levels of sex hormones which can lead to fluctuating moods. Similarly to PMS during this change phase, you may experience heighten emotions including irritability, apathy, and sadness.
Due to the imbalances in hormones many women experience panic attacks. These attacks can present as a debilitating emotional waves that come out of nowhere, an unexplainable increase in heartbeat, irrational feelings of dread, anger and sadness, extreme terror and shallow breathing.
Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters that play a crucial role in regulating mood. A decline in estrogen levels during menopause can interfere with the production of these neurotransmitters, which can lead to anxiety.
A combination of massive hormonal changes and unpleasant symptoms that affect your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing can negatively impact your quality of life. Many women report experiencing feelings of helplessness and depression while they transition through this phase, it is highly advised that you seek medical attention if you are experiencing this symptom.
Menopause related insomnia is usually caused by a combination of other symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, stress and anxiety. However, low levels of progesterone can also contribute to poor sleep, even if you’re not experiencing the other symptoms. Falling oestrogen and progesterone can affect your adrenaline levels which in turn may make it harder to sleep or cause you to frequently wake.
You may experience muscle stiffness, soreness and aches throughout your body during this phase. Changing hormone levels can cause muscles to tighten and contract. Many women report an increase in back, neck and shoulder pain and stiffness.
Estrogen is also vital for maintaining bone density by preventing bone resorption. Many menopausal and post-menopausal women are at high risk for osteoporosis, which is characterised by decrease in bone mass and density, as well as weakening of bones.
Declining estrogen levels contribute to joint pain as well as a reduction in bone density. The lowered bone mass and density when combined with muscle tightness and increased inflammation, can lead to serious joint pains. Many menopausal women complain of tightness in hips, soreness in knees, and joint swelling or fingers and toes.
Hormonal fluctuations can weaken your immune system, making you more prone to seasonal allergies. From sinus infections to rashes, itchy eyes, swelling and sneezing, menopause can exacerbate allergy symptoms.
With age and changing hormone levels, collagen production slows down. As collagen is crucial for maintaining moisture and elasticity in skin, menopausal women may experience more skin dryness, irritation and itchiness.
Falling estrogen levels can sometimes overstimulate the circulatory and nervous systems. This may cause irregular heartbeat, heart palpitations and/or arrhythmia. If you experience these symptoms, report them to your doctor immediately.
A symptom that is also common during a standard menstrual cycle and pregnancy, our breast are greatly affected by the changes to hormone levels. Breast tenderness and soreness are very common symptoms of this phase.
Changes in Breast Tissue
Another common symptoms related to our breast is a change to their size and shape. As estrogen levels drop and your breast milk system begins to shut down, changes occur in glandular tissues of the breast. Your breasts may shrink or change in size and shape. They may feel less dense and tend to sag.
Sensation of a Burning Tongue
The sensation of burning in the tongue, gums, lips or inner cheek is a less common symptoms but some women report the sensation is often associated with a metallic taste in the mouth.
Many women going through menopause notice a sensation of tingling, burning or numbness in their extremities – fingers, toes, feet, hands, arms and legs. This can also affect their sensitivity and response to touch.
Though brief, this can be an extremely unpleasant sensation is often reported to happen right before a hot flush. It has been likened to a rubber band snapping against the skin or a low voltage electric shock.
Although this list of symptoms is daunting, rest assured that most women only experience a handful of them. You may experience one or two of the symptoms for an extended period of time or multiple symptoms for a shorter amount of time.
Although all women will go through this biological change at some stage in their lives, our experiences are all different as are the ways we handle the changes.
As we transition through this phase, we are given an opportunity to explore how these changes affect us. Although somewhat daunting, this list will hopefully support you in understanding and acknowledging what’s happening to your body.
Written by Mona Hecke
Mona Hecke is a degree qualified Naturopath, nutrition specialist and health and wellness writer.
With over 20 years in the health industry, beginning with a focus on children and families, and a bestselling book ‘The Lunchbox Revolution’, Mona is now empowering women through education and conversation to take action and embrace change. Gut health, mindfulness, nutrition, hormones, and menopause are the topics that women want and need to know to create their healthy future.
Mona holds certifications in Lifestyle Coaching, Kinesiology, holistic herbal medicine, and nutrition.
A recognised leader in the health industry, Mona’s strong social media presence and passion for influencing change will continue to be a catalyst for health reform for the benefit of every Australian.