As we hinted at in a previous article, in the early stages women are only aware of the onset of the menopause because of changes in their menstrual period. Some women find their menstrual flow becomes lighter, whilst in others it becomes heavier. Periods usually become irregular, and bleeding between periods is not uncommon. The length of time between periods increases. And at some point, they stop completely. At the beginning, women usually barely notice these changes and as a result barely notice their menopause symptoms. The more they approach the time of their final menstrual period, the more noticeable the symptoms of the menopause become.
Typical symptoms of the menopause
Typical menopause symptoms which women experience include:
- Hot flushes and sweating: As many as two thirds of all women experience unpleasant hot flushes and sweating as symptoms of the menopause. A hot flush spreads through the entire body and is usually accompanied by pronounced heart palpitations. This is possibly due to hormonal changes and to the body’s inability to regulate its temperature as a result. As a rule, women only experience this symptom of the menopause for one or two years.
- Vaginal dryness: The drop in oestrogen levels impacts the mucous membranes – and not in a positive way. Low oestrogen levels mean that the blood supply and natural lubrication in the mucous membranes are no longer adequate, leaving them dry. This is painful, especially in the case of the mucous membranes in intimate areas. Many women going through the menopause therefore report having dry and sensitive mucous membranes. So-called vaginal dryness can be very uncomfortable. Women suffer from itching and burning sensations in their genital region, as well as pain during intercourse or even in their day-to-day life. Using personal lubricants on a daily basis can provide some relief in these cases. A lubricant such as this moisturises the genital region and can alleviate these unpleasant symptoms.
- Mood swings: Mood swings are another symptom of the menopause. However, women tend to suffer from low mood and irritability rather than high spirits. This, too, is linked to the hormonal fluctuations during the menopause. These affect the hypothalamus and, as a result, also the limbic system, which is responsible for our emotions.
- Disturbed sleep: Whether it’s hot flushes at night or the stresses of everyday life that keep them awake – many women going through the menopause complain of having disturbed sleep.
- Dizziness: Physical processes are controlled by hormones. When hormone levels change during the menopause, this can result in dizziness.
- Depression: Whilst some women suffer from mood swings as a result of hormonal changes, there are some who even suffer from depression. They feel empty and without purpose and lose their zest for life and their drive. Experts talk of perimenopausal and postmenopausal depression.
- Reduced performance: Disturbed sleep patterns are among the factors to blame for a drop in performance. Disturbed sleep is also a common symptom of the menopause in women. They find it more difficult to get to sleep and are often awake for long periods of time during the night. This reduces performance in women. As with so many other things, the drop in oestrogen levels is to blame for this, as it also plays a role in mental performance.
- Exhaustion: Exhaustion in women going through the menopause is the result of disturbed sleep, as well as the hot flushes they suffer from. Women sleep badly at night, have hot flushes and are then not well rested enough the next day. No surprise then that they feel exhausted and unable to face everyday tasks.
- Sexual problems: Sexual problems in the menopause are the result of various different factors. First, there is the decrease in natural lubrication in the genital region and the vaginal dryness which develops as a result. Pain during intercourse can make women shut themselves off, leaving them unable to enjoy a relaxed private life. Personal lubricants can provide some relief in these cases. Yet the other symptoms of the menopause – such as weight gain, exhaustion and even mood swings – don’t make the best basis for easy-going intimacy, either. As a result, sexual problems are not uncommon during the menopause.
- Irritability: Oestrogen has a number of different roles in the body. It also has a stabilising effect on the female psyche. As a result, low oestrogen levels are also usually accompanied by a bad mood, making women more irritable and crabby. That’s something even young women notice over the course of their monthly cycle. Yet besides the low oestrogen levels, women are of course simply not in the best of moods anyway thanks to the many changes – many of them negative – that they are going through.
- Weight gain: Hormones are often involved in weight changes, too. The same is true during the menopause. On account of the dwindling oestrogen levels and the dominance of male hormones that eventually prevails in the female body, during the menopause the distribution of fat in the female body is more similar to that of the male body. The feminine waist increasingly disappears, the bottom becomes flatter and the belly more rounded, and women put on weight around their hips. The older people are in general, the less food they need. However, this also means that women who eat just as much during the menopause as they did beforehand will put on weight. Around a kilogram each year. Many women therefore feel increasingly unwell. We will take a closer look in another post at what food is sensible for women to eat in the menopause.
- Possible bladder weakness: Due to the drop in oestrogen levels, the mucous membranes in the bladder and urethra degenerate over the course of the menopause. The pelvic floor also suffers during this period, as this muscle loses its elasticity and yields more frequently, thus affecting bladder control.
On the whole, we can say that roughly a third of all women suffer from severe menopause symptoms, another third has moderately severe menopause symptoms, whilst yet another third will barely notice any symptoms during the menopause. Yet there are products available to help alleviate these symptoms. In our next article, we look at how to treat the symptoms of the menopause.