Every woman’s menopause is different. There are at least 34 symptoms of the menopause (and counting), and every woman will experience a different range of symptoms. Some are more common than others. In this article we will cover several frequently asked questions:
- What is the average age for menopause?
- What are the 34 symptoms of menopause?
- What are the top 10 signs of menopause?
- What are the worst menopause symptoms?
What is the average age for menopause?
Menopause itself is just one moment in time, marking 12 months of no periods. This means that you will only know that you have reached menopause retrospectively – when you realise you’ve had a year with no periods.
For UK women, the average age of menopause is 51, but symptoms can start several years before that. Symptoms typically start showing at an average age of 45 years. This is your perimenopause. The time after menopause is called post-menopause, and it’s common for your symptoms to continue into this time.
There’s a reason why our medical advisor Dr Stephanie Goodwin calls perimenopause “the storm before the calm”: the perimenopause years are when many women experience the most hormonal turbulence and disruption. Many of us are still having regular periods and therefore assume that the menopause is years off.
We have no clue that the sudden onset of symptoms like aching joints (yes, achy legs at night is a menopause symptom!), anxiety and brain fog are in fact all a part of our menopause journey. Welcome to perimenopause!
How long does menopause last?
As we outlined above, the menopause itself is just a moment in time. But perimenopause and post-menopause symptoms can carry on for several years.
The perimenopause can last from 12 months to up to five years in most women. From this time, your ovaries release less estrogen than in previous years. Menopause symptoms may appear earlier than your mid 40s, especially if you have undergone chemotherapy or had a hysterectomy. The postmenopausal phase is where menopause symptoms slowly subside, although some women will experience symptoms into their 60s and even 70s.
READ MORE What is perimenopause?
What are the 34 symptoms of menopause?
Symptoms can affect your physical and your mental health. There is no one answer to the question, what are the worst menopause symptoms. Because every woman’s menopause is different, each of us will experience the symptoms in different ways. It is entirely personal.
If you’re reading this and wondering, am I going through menopause? The answer could well be yes. Read on.
Hot flushes are early symptoms that you are approaching menopause. A red neck and face characterise the flashes in up to 72% of women. When you have hot flushes, your body suddenly overheats, and you experience sweating and night sweats because the hormones responsible for controlling your body’s temperature are low. Spicy foods and hot drinks usually trigger symptoms of hot flushes.
READ MORE: Everything you need to know about hot flushes.
Night sweats are associated with difficulties in sleeping for most menopausal women. Night sweats are a result of hot flushes you experience at night.
Studies have shown that about 27% of women experience mood swings. Many women experience anxiety as well. The mood swings are similar to mood changes you may experience during your periods but tend to be extreme.
Anxiety affects one out of three menopausal women. It is common in women who also experience mood swings.
Weight gain during menopause, especially around your middle, is caused by the hormonal changes your body is going through. It is not caused by Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Exercise and a healthy diet can help you combat it.
Changes in libido
While most women report having a decrease in their libido, some have reported having increased libido. The changes in libido are, therefore, different from one woman to another. Decreased libido is said to be associated with gaining weight. It can lower your sex drive by making you feel uncomfortable with your body. Exercising and eating healthy can, however, make you embrace your body again.
Irregular periods are among the earlier symptoms of perimenopause in most women. As your egg production decreases, your hormone levels drop too. At times, you may get signs of premenstrual syndrome such as irritability, bloating, and breast tenderness but fail to get your periods.
During perimenopause and after menopause, the natural lubrication of your vagina is inadequate. Oestrogen is responsible for vaginal lubrication. When you are in the menopause years, your eggs fail to produce enough oestrogen to lubricate the vagina, and as a result, you experience vaginal dryness. The dryness can make sex uncomfortable and sometimes painful.
Insomnia is common because of hot flushes that can occur at night. The flashes may lead to night sweats that make it uncomfortable for you to sleep.
Difficulties in concentration
Your brain makes energy with the aid of estrogen by burning glucose to help you concentrate while carrying out your daily activities. When your estrogen levels decrease, the brain is no longer able to make enough energy to help you focus, leading to you experiencing concentration difficulties.
Does menopause affect your skin and hair?
There are estrogen receptors in every cell of your body, so your estrogen levels change, your skin and hair are affected too.
Estrogen is essential for skin hydration, facialist and acupuncturist Annee de Mamiel explains, because it increases the skin’s production of GAGs and oil, improves the barrier function and increases water retention.
“As estrogen levels reduce during the menopause and perimenopause, your skin can become less mobile and thinner,” says leading menopause expert Dr Louise Newson. “The low estrogen levels can result in there being less blood flowing to the epidermis (upper layer of your skin) and also more water loss from your skin leading to your skin becoming less hydrated.”
To help keep your skin hydrated, leading dermatologist and dermatological surgeon Dr Dennis Gross recommends looking for ingredients that build your skin barrier like bakuchiol and niacinamide. “This helps not only lock in moisture, but also help prevent skin from becoming irritated,” he explains.
READ MORE: How to help dry skin in menopause.
“Acne around the time of the perimenopause is not uncommon,” says Dr Stephanie Goodwin. “With hormonal changes, there is usually a drop in oestrogen and as a consequence a relatively high level of testosterone. Testosterone causes an increase in sebum (oil) production in the skin. This blocks the pores. On top of that, with age, skin turnover is less effective resulting in more blockage of the pores, inflammation and infection.”
Another factor, Annee de Mamiel explains, is the rising levels of cortisol women often experience during menopause. “This can impact our ability to cope with stress and result in mood swings, anxiety, lack of sleep and depression which in turn increase cortisol levels and has a negative impact on our skin,” she says.
Dry and itchy skin
When your oestrogen levels decrease during menopause, collagen also decreases. Annee de Mamiel says that as much as 30% of collagen is lost in the first five years after menopause. Collagen is a protein in the body that strengthens your skin and keeps it moist. When it drops, your skin becomes dry and itchy, a condition known as Pruritus.
Dr Gross suggests introducing a retinol into your skincare routine to stimulate collagen production and increase cell turnover. “It helps fight fine lines and wrinkles, keeps pores clear which prevents breakouts and also diminishes hyperpigmentation.” However, be sure to select a product that is not harsh and won’t irritate the skin. “I recommend finding a product that combines retinol with anti-inflammatory ingredients like ferulic acid, bakuchiol and rambutan,” he says. “This will give you all of the benefits of retinol without the irritation.”
READ MORE Does menopause cause itchy skin?
Loss of hair
Age may affect your hair volume and also make it thin. However, menopause accelerates the two and also makes you lose hair faster.
Approximately 40% of women experience hair loss during the menopause. Dr Sharon Wong, one of only a handful of people combining medical trichology with dermatology, explains this is because during menopause, the ratio between female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) and male hormones (androgens) is gradually reversed.
“Estrogen and progesterones are hair ‘protective’ and maintain hairs in the growth phase of the hair cycle. Androgens are the hormones involved in kick-starting the balding process in genetic hair loss,” she says. “The decline in oestrogens/progesterones means you lose the protective effect on your hair, whilst the effect of androgens on the follicle is amplified.”
Menopause is also a time which coincides with the onset of female pattern hair loss (FPHL). “This is the female equivalent of male pattern balding, with loss of density and thinning specifically over the crown,” explains Dr Wong. “The parting progressively becomes wider and the scalp starts to show through the hair more.”
READ MORE: The 10 best products for menopause hair loss.
Your nails may break easily during menopause. Estrogen is essential in keeping the keratin layer, which strengthens your nails, strong. When it reduces, the keratin layer weakens to cause brittle nails in many women in their menopause.
Can menopause make you feel strange?
There are some symptoms that you would not expect to be caused by the menopause. And yes, some of them will certainly make you feel strange.
Feeling exhausted is also common during menopause. Research shows that 25% of women experience fatigue during menopause.
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Tingling sensation in the extremities
While most women report experiencing tingling sensations in their fingers and toes, it is also normal to experience a burning sensation or some numbness. These changes are due to a drop in your oestrogen levels that affects your central nervous system, which relays signals to the rest of your body.
Sudden unexplainable dizziness during menopause is said to be associated with a drop in your levels of estrogen.
Pain in joints
Oestrogen is responsible for strengthening bones and protecting them from inflammation. As the levels of the hormone decrease, your joints become susceptible to inflammation.
Electric shocks are a menopausal symptom that occur suddenly and are due to the inappropriate firing of neurons. You are likely to experience electric shocks after hot flushes.
A burning tongue is due to dry mouth that may be due to reduced levels of oestrogen. Just like the mucosa of the vagina, the mucosa of the mouth has oestrogen receptors that contribute to saliva formation. Reduction in your estrogen levels during menopause leads to reduced saliva production.
Problems with gums
Gum problems during menopause can cause your mouth to taste like metal. Gum problems affect 10-40% of women.
Digestive issues may be excessive flatulence, bloating, nausea and abdominal cramps. The problems arise from elevated cortisol levels as your estrogen decreases, since estrogen is responsible for maintaining healthy cortisol levels.
Bloating is an early sign that you are approaching menopause. Bloating is a common perimenopausal symptom, especially if it persists after you complete your periods.
READ MORE Does HRT cause weight gain?
Feeling soreness in your breasts is a common symptom in perimenopause. It is the same as the sore you experience when you have your period or are pregnant.
If you experienced headaches during your menstrual period, it is common to get headaches during menopause too. Hormones released by your ovaries may also affect chemicals in the brain related to headaches. Headaches are less likely to occur if your hormones are steady. In the menopause years, however, the hormones fluctuate, explaining why headaches are more frequent in menopause.
Temporary forgetfulness is a common symptom you will experience in later stages of menopause. It is associated with fatigue, but you can rectify it by doing cognitive exercises to enhance your cognition.
Strain in your muscles is often associated with stress. Since menopause is associated with symptoms like anxiety and stress, your muscles may tighten. Yoga and meditation can, however, relieve stress and help your body relax for your muscles to loosen.
Changes in body odour
The natural body scent changes when you reach menopause. These changes may be due to hormonal changes and frequent sweating associated with hot flushes.
Fluctuations in your hormones are associated with changes in mood at menopause. Try relaxing activities and exercise, or meditating to help control the changes in your moods.
Since hormones and your immune system are linked, finding yourself allergic to new things is common when you are in menopause.
You may notice changes in your heartbeat, such as palpitations. Similar to the tingling sensations you may experience during menopause, irregular heartbeats occur because the drop in your estrogen levels may cause misfiring of neurons.
The inability to control your bladder when you lift heavy items off the ground or cough is called stress incontinence. During menopause, physical activities can cause urine leakage because they stress your bladder.
Studies show that women younger than 45 years are less likely to be depressed compared to those who are older. Due to the mood changes you experience in menopause, such as sadness, you might experience depression.
As aforementioned, menopausal women are prone to anxiety due to hormonal changes. Anxiety may contribute to panic attacks. However, panic attacks are not a common symptom of menopause.
Osteoporosis is a condition associated with weak bones that are prone to fractures. A significant function of estrogen is to maintain healthy and strong bones. Your bones, therefore, weaken when your estrogen levels lower during menopause.
What is HRT?
Hormone Replacement Therapy, HRT, is the medical treatment for menopause. Hormone therapy is, the most recognised method of managing menopausal symptoms and replacing deficient hormone levels. It helps not just with symptoms but with future health issues caused by low hormone levels, such as osteoporosis and heart disease.
Since the cause of menopausal symptoms arises from low levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, hormone therapy can help alleviate the symptoms.
What is the best natural remedy for menopause?
There are several natural remedies that some women use for combating specific symptoms menopause brings. Always let your doctor know if you are taking any, because they can affect more traditional medicines.
Black cohosh, flax seeds, soy, vitamin E, exercising, yoga and meditation have been adopted by many women to lessen menopause symptoms.
However, each remedy aims at relieving a particular symptom. Flax seed, for example, is a useful remedy for hot flushes, while vitamin E relieves vaginal dryness.
A lot of women use black cohosh. It aims at relieving hot flushes and night sweats of menopause. Black cohosh is a herb, and its dietary supplements are from a powder of its roots.
READ MORE: A doctor’s guide to complementary medicine.