The most common menopause symptoms are wild, but also manageable

Despite the fact that 1.3 million women enter menopause each year, it is only recently that the world has begun to pay attention to menopausal symptoms. It’s been a long time coming, as the symptoms of menopause go far beyond the oft-parodied hot flash.

“It’s common knowledge that menopause can affect a woman from head to toe,” says Somi Javaid, MD, a fellow of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and founder and chief medical officer of HerMD. Menopause affects your sex life, your mental health, and even your wardrobe. It’s time to make menopause symptoms as important and recognized as those experienced during puberty.

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As important as these lifestyle changes are for women, talking about menopause is important from more than just a cultural perspective. “It’s important to talk about the impact that a decrease in estrogen has on the body, in general,” says ob-gyn Leah Millheiser, MD, a North American Menopause Society-certified menopause practitioner and the chief medical officer. of the Evernow Menopause Treatment Center. “This includes a loss of bone mass, which can later lead to osteoporosis and potentially life-threatening fractures; cardiovascular disease; type 2 diabetes; changes in weight, skin and hair; cognitive changes; and changes in sexual function (think decreased sex drive, vaginal dryness, and pain during sex). Dr. Millheiser says, “Knowledge is key here.” Just like a good relationship with your doctor, so that you can decide together what the best transition treatment is for you.

So what can you expect? Here’s everything you need to know about menopause symptoms.

But first, what is menopause?

Menopause is defined as the cessation of ovarian function and is officially diagnosed when you have gone an entire year without a period. However, you may be experiencing premenopause symptoms, also known as perimenopause, for years before that. “From puberty to menopause, your period is the result of a follicle or egg being released at ovulation and not being fertilized,” says Lizellen La Folette, MD, a certified ob-gyn and medical advisor for Stripes. “The cycle is controlled by estrogen and progesterone, our reproductive hormones. During menopause, the ovaries become increasingly resistant to ovulation, as fewer and fewer follicles are released.”

This drop-off is not linear, which is why you may experience years of irregular periods and early menopausal symptoms before you officially enter menopause. (For most women, the menopausal transition begins around age 45 — the average age of menopause is diagnosed at 51.) The result is that “the connection between brain and ovaries changes from a well-oiled machine producing regular cycles in a state of stress and dysfunction,” says Dr. La Folette.

What are common menopause symptoms?

Major changes are to be expected during this time, and while they may be perfectly natural, menopause symptoms can feel quite disorienting. Like the symptoms you might experience during your period or pregnancy, menopause symptoms are systemic, meaning they cause changes in expected places (like your vagina) and some not-so-expected places (like your skin).

Common symptoms of menopause are:

Hot flashes and night sweats

When you mention menopause, the first thing you probably think of is vasomotor symptoms, also known as hot flashes. Hot flashes can feel different for every woman. They can include excessive perspiration, palpitations, anxiety, and even chills.

Sleeping problems

Aside from the sheet-soaked night sweats that can wake you up in a panic in the middle of the night, hormonal changes can also trigger other sleep disturbances. Menopausal women are more likely to develop sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Sexual dysfunction

Your sex life during menopause and perimenopause is likely to include some uncomfortable changes: low libido, vaginal dryness, pain during sex, and difficulty having an orgasm are all common. Effects on sexual function and libido are also commonly reported during perimenopause. (Don’t worry; there are plenty of hormonal and non-hormonal menopause treatments that can help, as well as more lubes than ever you can buy.)

Hair loss

Hair loss isn’t an “official” symptom of menopause because it’s not related to estrogen loss, says gynecologist Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a menopause specialist and clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale, but it’s still commonly reported at the onset of menopause. menopause . If you’re experiencing it, you’re not alone.

Skin changes

The drop in your estrogen levels during menopause can wreak havoc on your skin. “Estrogen plays a role in collagen production, skin elasticity, thickness, and moisture levels, as well as the formation of healthy blood vessels,” says Sarvenaz Zand, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco and founder of Zand Dermatology. “When we produce less estrogen, we start to see the opposite: fine lines and wrinkles, dryness, sensitivity, dullness, sagging, and less pink glow.”

Menopause can also trigger the onset of rosacea. “We also lose fat and bone volume in our cheeks, so cheeks become more prominent,” says Dr. Sand.

Changes in the chest

Menopause can also be associated with breast tenderness and loss of volume. As estrogen decreases, the mammary glands shrink and breasts tend to lose firmness, according to Penn Medicine.

Mood swings

Menopause can also cause a lot of mental changes, those so-called mood swings. “Mood and memory disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are common during menopause,” says Dr. Javaid. According to research published in 2021, 18% to 40% of women experience depression during menopause and perimenopause, and up to a quarter experience renewed anxiety.

“It’s really important to put pen to paper in a journal and track changes in mood and irritability to see if there’s a pattern,” says Dr La Folette. “Many issues are neglected over the years amidst the balancing act between raising children, busy work schedules and life stress.”

Brain fog

“The brain hormone connection is integral to how well you feel your brain is functioning,” says Dr. La Folette. The combination of fluctuating hormones and age during menopause results in a loss of synaptic connections in the brain. “Women report problems with memory problems during menopause, such as difficulty finding words, the presence of brain fog, and forgetfulness,” adds Dr. Javaid.

Blow problems

Urinary symptoms, such as UTIs and incontinence, are also common during menopause, says Dr. Minkin: “I teach people to do Kegel exercises several times a day.”

When should I see a doctor about my menopause symptoms?

While menopause may be a completely natural process, it doesn’t mean you have to live with the symptoms. If you start to notice irregularities in your menstrual cycle, talk to your doctor. “Because women can experience a wide variety of symptoms during menopause, any new symptoms, such as those that are considered unusual for your body, should be discussed with your healthcare provider,” says Dr. Javaid.

As you enter menopause, don’t panic, she adds. There are many menopause treatment options — hormonal and non-hormonal — available to give you a better quality of life.

Macaela MacKenzie is a writer and editor specializing in wellness. She writes about self-care, mental health, fertility and women’s equality with a focus on breaking stigmas in women’s health.

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