You might be surprised to hear just how many symptoms of the menopause there are - doctors have identified 34 signs, based on research into the most common and recognisable symptoms. Not every woman will experience these changes - and there may be ones that are unique to individuals.
The fact there are so many side-effect to this natural process may feel a bit daunting. It's worth remembering, there is effective treatment available for the menopause, so there is no need to suffer in silence.
The signs that you are going through the menopause
1. Hot flushes
Hot flushes are best described as a rising wave of heat – almost as if your internal pipes are overheating. Hot flushes affect around 75% of menopausal women, thankfully HRT is very effective at dealing with this symptom.
2. Night sweats
You wake up drenched in sweat, often having to change your sheets and nightwear. Like hot flushes, night sweats are vasomotor symptom – a temperature dysfunction that occurs due to changes in hormones.
3. Irregular periods
Periods can become erratic; sometimes they are very heavy, at other times light. PMS may also occur without a period, which can feel confusing if you are used to the natural rhythm of your body's cycle.
4. Mood swings
A third of women report feeling inexplicably moody. This can cause problems not just the person going through the menopause, but also for her family and loved ones. For some women, these moods can be debilitating and they should definitely consider seeking help.
5. Vaginal dryness
As oestrogen levels, drop, you may notice itchiness as well as discomfort during sex. A lack of oestrogen make the vagina and the inner mucosa of the vulva become quite irritated. Topical oestrogen or HRT can help as prescribed by a gynaecologist can help.
6. Decreased libido
When levels of oestrogen and testosterone (yes women produce this too!) drastically drop during menopause, the result may be a lower sex drive. Talking to a gynaecologist about HRT can help with this.
Hormonal fluctuations can mean me women have worsening headaches during perimenopause – although on the plus side, women who suffered premenstrual headaches may find they ease after menopause.
8. Breast soreness
Oestrogen and progesterone levels rise and fall in unpredictable patterns during menopause, meaning that tender breasts can be more of an issue.
9. Burning mouth
Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS) is a condition that affects the tongue and the inside of the mouth and lips. Symptoms include a burning, stinging or tingling. One study says it affects 18 to 33 percent of postmenopausal women. Hormone imbalance is behind this weird sensation – particularly oestrogen levels.
10. Joint pain
Decreasing oestrogen levels mean joints can lose flexibility; inflammation can also increase.
11. Digestive problems
Hormonal changes can lead to IBS-type symptoms, such as stomach upsets bloating, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea and cramps. However, you should always talk to a doctor about this, as bloating and pain may be a symptom of other more serious conditions, including ovarian cancer.
12. Electric shocks
Oestrogen plays an important role in in your brain. It’s believed that seesawing hormone levels can cause an electric shock type sensation.
13. Muscle tension
Stress and anxiety won’t help, but the menopause also leads to cell deterioration which will increase the feeling of sore muscles.
14. Gum problems
Up to a third of menopausal women experience problems with their gums around the time of the menopause.
Tingling, also known as paresthesia, is caused by oestrogen’s ups and downs during menopause. This triggers symptoms affecting the central nervous system.
16. Itchy skin
Studies more than twenty years ago showed that skin becomes thinner and more fragile in women after the menopause. Collagen is also affected, making women more prone to wrinkles. There is evidence that HRT boosts hydration, skin elasticity, skin thickness and also reduces skin wrinkles.
Exhaustion is common during the menopause. Oestrogen, progesterone, thyroid and adrenal hormones are all involved in energy levels and when these are disrupted, women can feel drained.
18. Disrupted sleep
The menopause brings particular challenges for women, including vasomotor symptoms, mood changes and having to go the the loo more frequently, which are all sleep disrupting. Sleep apnoea, which although more common in men has been found to worsen after the menopause, even when controls are allowed for weight and smoking.
19. Hair loss
Hair loss is not uncommon. This might manifest itself in a receding hair line, especially around the temples or an increasingly wider hair parting. Blood tests will indicate whether this is due to an increase of androgens which can be because of the menopause or certain oral contraceptives pills or polycystic ovarian syndrome.
20. Memory lapses
Trying to find the ‘right’ word and memory lapses can occur during menopause. It's that fluctuating oestrogen again!
21. Poor concentration
Difficulty concentrating is and poor memory or common symptoms of the menopause and respond well to treatment with HRT.
Feeling anxious during the menopause is common. This in part is due to the usual stresses, but can feel more acute when combined with hormonal changes. Talking to a doctor will help you decide what is the best way to manage this,
23. Weight gain
People often experience an increase in body fat during menopause. This is linked with reduced oestrogen levels, poor sleep, and sluggish metabolism as well as losing muscle mass.
24. Dizzy spells
As the level of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone change they can have an effect on circulation and blood vessels. The resulting fluctuations in blood pressure can cause dizziness.
Bloating is common at the start of the menopause and becomes less of an issue after, as oestrogen causes the body to retain water. Always check with your doctor if you have unexplained bloating that is persistent.
26. Stress incontinence
Age will increase your chances of leaking urine and feeling urgency, however HRT can be very helpful in lessening these symptoms.
27. Brittle nails
Lower oestrogen levels and dehydration can leave your nails feeling brittle and can make them snap or break more easily.
Many women develop allergies during the menopause. Falling oestrogen levels stress out the nervous system, causing the body to produce more histamine, the powerful chemical that leads to allergy symptoms to certain substances, which can include pollen, dust, pets, chemicals – and sometimes wine!
29. Irregular heartbeat
Women should bear in mind the menopause can cause palpitations because of changing hormone levels. Often, but not always, this may be linked to hot flushes. If these palpitations are accompanied by shortness of breath or feeling faint, then do seek medical advice.
30. Body odour
Naturally, hormones cause us to have a certain scent – women who have experienced pregnancy will note their body smelled differently. And many women report body odour before and during a period. Expect your scent to alter during and after the menopause.
Feeling ratty is commonly reported during the menopause. If you have experienced PMS, it’s likely to feel turbo-charged now. Be kind to yourself or seek out some help from a menopause specialist.
Depression is four times more likely to affect women of a menopausal age than a woman below the age of 45. The tragedy for women is that usually the association between hormonal fluctuations and depression is not recognised by their doctors who will instead treat them with antidepressants. HRT can help.
33. Panic disorder
When you add up feeling depressed, having palpitations and hot flushes, perhaps it's not surprising that incidences of panic disorder rise in women of menopausal age. If you're experiencing this unpleasant symptom, it might be a good time to seek help.
Women’s risk of osteoporosis increases after the menopause. This condition - which is preventable with the right treatment - causes the bones to crumble and become fragile. Unfortunately, osteoporosis is associated with higher mortality and needs to be taken seriously, so it's important to get your bones scanned. Oestrogen levels dramatically decrease after the menopause, and as much as half of a woman’s total bone loss occurs within the first 10 years following her last monthly period.
The good news is, most of these symptoms can be treated or even avoided with the right treatment.
If you would like to talk to a menopause expert, please make an appointment by clicking here. Call us on 020 7486 0497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find our more about menopause and HRT, Professor John Studd, the internationally acknowledged expert in the field of gynaecological endocrinology and founder of The London PMS & Menopause Clinic has made a series of podcasts. You can listen here.