Not sure exactly how to know if you might be going through menopause?
For most of us women the scenario is this (raise your hand if that’s you): in our forties or fifties, strange things are happening to us, things we have never noticed before, and we keep asking ourselves what’s wrong. We are, in one word, clueless – because we’ve never spent a thought on menopause (after all, it’s what happens when you’re ‘old’, right?!). Until a wise female points out that what you’re experiencing may be, in fact, perimenopause. Now we’re in shock, thinking, what-when-why-how did this happen and what exactly does that mean??!!
I’ve been there, wondering what the heck happened to my regular periods and why were they suddenly all over the place. Hadn’t it been for a friend’s mother, I would have wondered for a while longer…
So here we go, let me be the wise female 😉 to help you put the pieces together.
You may start to notice changes in your health and wellbeing as you enter your forties and fifties, but these aren’t always recognized as being linked to menopause. Changing levels of estrogen, testosterone and other hormones can encourage a range of symptoms. Some of these are classic menopause symptoms but others can be more surprising.
What is menopause?
In a nutshell, “menopause” means that your periods are no longer happening and you have gone at least one year without having one. Sounds simple, right? But wait, it’s not that easy!
In the years leading up to this point, most women experience ‘perimenopause’. During this time, your levels of two key hormones, estrogen and progesterone, begin to change. This stems from your ovaries supply of eggs, which start to decline and have a knock-on effect for common menopause symptoms.
Not having periods for 2 or more months is quite common in perimenopause, and as you move towards full menopause, these intervals can become even longer. It is not unheard of to go 8 or 10 or months without a period and you think you’re almost ‘there’, and boom, you get one and it all starts over.
When you’ve finally not had a period for 12 months, you’ve ‘made it’ – you’re in menopause! Or are you?! You’re now actually in ‘post-menopause’ … are you confused yet? Menopause is technically just the stage you are in for the 24 hours after not having had a period for one year (I wondered many times who made this up). Which means you’re now PAST menopause, et voilá: you’re post-menopausal.
But for most of us, the terms and time frames are actually not that important. Because the symptoms that accompany the hormone changes don’t begin, change or end with each of these different stages.
Hot flashes and night sweats
Random feelings of heat that suddenly come out of nowhere are one of the classic signs of menopause, although they don’t happen to every woman. It’s common for them to last for a couple of years but they can go on for longer than this. A lot of women experience night sweats too, which can be super disruptive for sleep. There is no clear science yet as to what exactly is causing this, but it is thought that fluctuating hormone levels affect your body’s ability to regulate temperature, which fools it into thinking that it needs to cool down.
A sudden and chronic dip in your mood can be another sign of menopause. Hormone changes are thought to affect levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which negatively affects your mood. If you’ve previously suffered from depression, there’s a good chance that you’ll also experience it during the perimenopause and menopause and it can also affect women who have had not experienced mental health issues prior to this stage of their life.
Vaginal and bladder issues
Hormone changes can lead to vaginal dryness, often due to the vaginal walls becoming thinner. This can make you more likely to get vaginal infections (including thrush), and can make intercourse uncomfortable or painful. You can also find that your vagina and urethra are more sensitive and prone to discomfort, even if you’re not having sex. Low libido is also very common during menopause.
Some women also experience urinary incontinence and bladder leakage during menopause. You may suddenly get the urge to go to the bathroom and struggle to get there in time and you may also leak urine when you cough, laugh or sneeze. This can be super distressing and very inconvenient. You can also be more prone to urinary tract infections around menopause.
It’s not uncommon to put on weight in the run up to menopause, especially around your abdomen. Your metabolism decreases, which makes it harder to avoid putting weight on. Increased cortisol levels are another factor, especially if you’re stressed.
Chronic tiredness can be a common menopause symptom and it can be the type of fatigue that feels all consuming. Anxiety and stress can make it worse so it’s super important to keep stress to a minimum if you’re struggling with menopause related fatigue. It’s worth bearing in mind that other health problems can cause fatigue, including anemia and thyroid imbalances. 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.
Dry skin and thinner hair
Lower estrogen levels can have an effect on your skin and hair, and a lot of women notice that their skin becomes drier and their hair is thinner and more prone to falling out. This can be very distressing, especially if hair loss is noticeable. It stems from lower estrogen levels and higher testosterone levels, which combine to affect hair growth.
It’s not always commonly associated with menopause but joint pain can be another knock on effect of hormonal changes which can be debilitating and affect your quality of life. Menopause related joint pain often affects joints that take a lot of stress and impact in day-to-day life such as your knees and hips.