Symptoms of the menopause can vary considerably from one person to the next. This page describes the 6 most common symptoms as compiled from questions asked at the A.Vogel menopause helpline.
It also gives a brief description of the less common symptoms you can expect when going through the menopause.
However, bear in mind that even if you are the ‘typical’ age, your symptoms may not be due to the menopause. If in any doubt, make an appointment with your doctor.
The hot flush, usually accompanied by sweating, is said to be the most common symptom encountered. It is experienced by over 80% of women going through the menopause. The problem arises as changes in hormone levels upset the temperature regulating part of the brain.
As hot flushes and sweats often occur together, the two terms are commonly used interchangeably to describe the same set of symptoms. A night sweat is simply excessive sweating or a hot flush at night. As night sweats can cause sleep problems, they have the potential be disruptive to quality of life.
Sudden changes in room temperature, eating spicy foods as well as stress can trigger hot flushes and sweats.
Menopause occurs when periods stop. However, it is rare that the monthly menstrual bleed ceases suddenly. Most commonly, the menstrual cycle becomes irregular with a tendency towards heavy, prolonged or painful periods.
This usually marks the start of the first stage of the menopause and is known medically as the Peri-menopause. Other symptoms such as irritability or low mood may also be present. These may appear or worsen in the week or so before each menstrual bleed and considered to be a form of PMS (Pre-menstrual syndrome).
Sometimes a woman may go for a few months without a period, only for it to return with a vengeance.
Excessively heavy periods may be an indication of fibroids affecting the womb or other gynaecological disorder, especially if accompanied by severe pain. It is always best to consult a doctor if you experience these symptoms.
Change in hormones during the menopause not only affects the regularity of the menstrual cycle. They can also cause breast pain or tenderness. This arises because the female hormones get thrown out of balance and is usually seen at around the time of ovulation or menstruation.
In addition, lower oestrogen levels, together with a decrease in testosterone during this time of life, can lead to a reduction in libido or sexual drive. This may be made worse as a result of vaginal dryness which arises because of a reduction in oestrogen, blood flow and lubrication.
Decreasing levels of hormones during the menopause can affect the way the brain functions and women may experience the symptom of mood swings or low mood during the menopause. These symptoms are probably more common than we realise, and very occasionally, changes in hormones can even lead to depression.
Low mood during the menopause is not helped by the fact that this phase of life can be associated with children leaving home, creating ‘empty nests’ – not helpful when you are already feeling a bit down anyway.
Anxiety and irritability can also be part of the menopause. Some women find these symptoms similar in nature to Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and cope with them as such. Occasionally, anxiety or irritability may be accompanied by palpitations, or an awareness of one’s heartbeat.
Many women experience muscle pain whilst going through the menopause1. Studies have shown that 50% of post-menopausal women experience joint pain2. The most commonly affected areas of the body are the neck, shoulders, elbows and hands.
Hormones play an important role in a woman’s joint health and fluctuating oestrogen levels during the menopause can have an impact on how your muscles and joints behave. If you experience symptoms of joint or muscle pain and stiffness, there are a number of ways you can help yourself naturally.
Changing your diet can have a positive effect on these symptoms of menopause. Stay away from sugar and increase your intake of vitamin C. The use of arnica gel externally can also help to reduce the aches and pains experienced.
Other symptoms of the menopause are more rarely encountered and include:
Menopause headaches. These may be a direct outcome of irritability and anxiety. Although not fully understood, it seems that hormonal changes during the menopause may have a direct effect, giving rise to headaches in (probably) the same way that women with migraines suffer headaches at particular points in their menstrual cycle. Read more about headaches and the menopause.
Forgetfulness. Women may experience a tendency to memory lapses during the menopause. We are not sure why this happens, but what we know is that oestrogen receptors are found in many areas of the brain3.
Recent research has shown that women more troubled by hot flushes and night sweats had more memory problems because of disturbed sleep, if you are feeling low or anxious. The symptom often improves as one gets through the menopause. However, you can help yourself by ditching your pride and working with notes and lists.
Disturbed sleep. Night sweats and hot flushes are not the only reasons for sleep problems during the menopause. Changes in hormones during the menopause can, on its own, give rise to difficulty sleeping.
Symptoms include waking up often during the night, poor quality sleep and driving your partner mad tossing and turning through the night. If your sleep problems are not related to night sweats or hot flushes, you may wish to download our guide on what you can do when you are Sleeping Poorly.
Hair, skin and nails during the menopause. The condition of one’s hair, skin and nails can be a sign or symptom of how healthy we are.
During the menopause, some women find that these parts of the body lose condition, lustre and strength.
Hormonal changes during the menopause cause the connective tissue under our skin to become thinner and less elastic.
This can lead to the dreaded wrinkles but also affects the way our hair and nails are ‘fed’ nutritionally.
Bladder problems. Weakness of connective tissue may not simply affect hair, skin and nails during the menopause.These same changes can also affect the tissues controlling your bladder and you may find a need to pass urine more frequently during the menopause.In the same way, the tissues surrounding the vagina become weaker.
Digestive problems. These are also caused by weakness of connective tissue as the levels of hormones decline, making the digestive system less able to function normally. Symptoms such as indigestion and bloating may be experienced.
Osteoporosis. This condition is popularly known as ‘thinning of the bones’. It comes about when bones lose their calcium content and weaken.
The hormone oestrogen is an important factor stimulating the cells responsible for building bones. Lower levels of the hormone during and after the menopause cause a gradual loss of bone strength.
Although this tendency is seen in all menopausal women, not everyone is at risk of osteoporosis. Those with a family history of the problem, smokers and women who have been less physically active in the past are more prone to the problem.
Read more about osteoporosis.