Menopause is something that we’ve all heard about, and it’s a word we all know. And yet, far too many of us are probably unaware of the true meaning behind it, the symptoms a woman goes through when they have it, or how long it ultimately lasts.
That’s because there are so many misconceptions out there.
The internet is filled with all sorts of stories and information regarding menopause, that it’s easy to get confused.
The same goes for the ways you see menopause interpreted throughout various films and television shows and they aren’t always accurate or even close to it. This article will help explain exactly what menopause is, how long it lasts, and the symptoms to look for.
What is Menopause?
For those wanting the real definition, it goes something like this. Menopause is the period in a woman’s life where their menstrual periods permanently stop. It also causes women to no longer be able to have children.
This occurs during the same time that men typically go through what is known as a “mid-life crisis,” around the ages of your late forties and early fifties. It can be medically defined as the time when a woman ceases to have vaginal bleeding for a year, or by the significant decrease in the production of hormones by the ovaries.
If you’re someone who had their uterus removed and still kept their ovaries, menopause usually occurs sooner. It will more than likely take place at the time of the surgery.
Menopause Facts and Information
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of all things involving menopause, there are some facts you should be aware of. Just some necessary things to know about this time in the life of you or your loved one.
- Menopause is also known as the climacteric.
- Menopause occurs during the 12 consecutive months you go without a period.
- Those final years leading up to your last period are called perimenopause.
- Most women will experience menopause between the ages of 45 and 55.
- Some symptoms, which will be further discussed later, include weight gain, hot flashes, and bone loss.
- Menopause can be made more accessible through lifestyle boosts and hormone therapy.
- Postmenopause is the stage in your life after you didn’t have a period for a year.
How To Tell When Menopause Is On The Horizon
We pointed out that the age range when you’ll eventually go through menopause is from 45 to 55. Now, we do understand how broad of a spectrum that is. We don’t want you to be surprised when menopause hits, so it’s best to know the signs for when it’s coming up.
The first thing you may notice during that perimenopause timeframe is that your periods would become irregular. That means they could be lighter, more substantial, shorter, or longer than expected, with no real explanation behind it.
Another significant sign, and it’s one you hear about whenever menopause is mentioned, is a hot flash. For those unaware, due to reduced levels of estradiol and changing hormone levels, a woman will experience this form of flushing.
Your skin will get red as you’ll feel a great deal of heat. Furious sweating is another symptom that happens during hot flashes. They can last anywhere between a few minutes and half an hour.
Many people seem to have a common misconception when it comes to menopause. It is believed that it is a sudden occurrence, but that’s far from the truth.
In fact, as it takes place over the course of twelve months, it’s more of a gradual process. The menstruation stops over the course of time, rather than at once.
Yes, we’ve mentioned them already, but it’s time to dig a little deeper into those rough patches of the day that come with menopause. These can also be known as hot flushes. They’re an abrupt sense of overwhelming warmth that spreads throughout the body.
The experience has been known to range between a delicate feeling of heat or the sensation of being surrounded by flames. Yes, they can be that extreme. Your body is reacting to the decreased amount of hormones.
While not every woman is subjected to this harrowing experience, about 75% to 85% of American women do.
When a woman doesn’t go through it much, it’s usually because their estrogen production decreases gradually. Those who get a lot of hot flashes have their estrogen production end more suddenly.
Night Sweats and Sleep Disorders
These go hand in hand with hot flashes. However, while hot flashes come during random points throughout the day, night sweats come at night. They’re hot flashes while you sleep.
These are usually filled with intense sweating, making them a perspiration disorder during sleep that is common in women with menopause.
Like hot flashes, these episodes can range from mild to severe. Your environment can play a factor, so during menopause, it might be best to sleep in an area that isn’t already warm.
You don’t want to combine that with the hormonal imbalance that already causes these night sweats. These can disrupt sleep and lead to increased stress and irritability.
Along with these sweats, it’s common to find sleep-related disorders. Insomnia is a big one, as is always waking up throughout a night.
If you’ve ever seen an episode of That 70’s Show when Eric’s mom goes through menopause, you may have a sense of how these mood swings work. She switches from loving to emotional to angry at the drop of a dime.
While TV shows don’t always accurately depict these things, the idea was stable there. Mood swings during menopause are known to be both intense and sudden.
They can go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows without warning.
Again, this is a product of those unbalanced hormones. With estrogen dropping, the production of the neurotransmitters that regulate moods go the same way. That leads to mood swings.
This is one of the most common side effects of menopause. When you grow older, fatigue is natural, but that gets compounded and extrapolated when you go through menopause.
There’s just this nagging feeling of being tired and weak. Getting through any activity feels exhausting.
Not to the point where you’re sleepy, but to the point where you’re dragging yourself to do almost anything. As with primarily every other symptom, this is caused by the hormonal changes you go through when menopause is occurring.
Your estrogen hormones regulate at a cellular level, so when those are down, so are your energy levels.
There is another condition known as crashing fatigue, which comes on quickly and leaves a woman with next to no energy.
For many people, male or female, with age comes a decreased libido.
As your energy drains quicker than you’re used to, that sex drive isn’t what it used to be. However, that can also be attributed to menopause for the case of women in that 45-55 age range. While the entire process of menopause is a gradual one, the drop in interest in intimacy can be a startling and sudden one.
In menopausal women, this is caused by the hormonal imbalance they experience during this time, with the main one being androgen deficiency. Unlike other symptoms, this one can be helped by things like prescription drugs if you choose to go that route.
Lack of Concentration and Memory
Mental lapses are one of the more frustrating symptoms you can end up with. Often, you’ll find yourself having blocks that force you to forget things or prevent you from concentrating on things.
It has been known to leave women confused and concerned. For the most part, it doesn’t get to the point where you forget people or things you do on a consistent basis.
Usually, it’s cases of misplaced keys or forgotten appointments where this caps out. Along with the concentration issues, you may also find yourself with some nagging pain.
There’s a good chance that this symptom can lead to the sign listed above. The usually soft feeling of the vagina’s lining goes away during menopause for many ladies. That leads to further symptoms like irritation and itchiness of the area.
Thanks to that pesky drop in estrogen again, the vaginal tissue becomes thinner, less elastic, and drier, while also making it more susceptible to infection. There is a version of this known as atrophy of the vagina, causing it to shrink.
This is a distressing symptom that can lead to more problems. The lack of natural lubrication also causes lovemaking to be uncomfortable and painful.
Headaches and Joint Pain
Starting with headaches, it’s hard always to associate this with menopause. Alcohol, muscle tension, flashing lights, or general sickness have all caused problems in the past, and those are only a few of the causes.
Of course, they’re also connected to hormone imbalance. Often, women get regular headaches during their menstrual cycles when estrogen levels dive. Once the body slows down the process of producing estrogen, it can cause worse problems than usual.
Then, there are the joint aches. It’s one of the more common menopause symptoms as more than half of women experience it.
These are unexplained pains and soreness in your joints and muscles. Most of the time, pains like this are caused by something happening or from exercising. Here, it’s again due to estrogen levels, as that usually helps prevent inflammation in the joints. The low level in your body means increased swelling and pain in the bones.
Sure, you may end up gaining weight during menopause, but that doesn’t mean that eating will go smoothly. With menopause, you can find changes in gastrointestinal function. That leads to problems like nausea, cramping, and excess gas.
Your hormonal imbalance will disrupt the natural way that food travels to the stomach. With a decrease in the production of your digestive hormone lactase comes the body’s rejection of specific dairy products.
However, if you’re experiencing these stomach problems for a few consecutive days, you should talk to your doctor.
Not many folks understand, but your immune system is linked with your hormones. Naturally, the change in your hormone levels during menopause means you can expect changes to your immune system.
That means things like your allergies will work up more than they used to. Increased sensitivity to allergies is one thing, while some other women may find themselves allergic to something entirely new.
Most of the cases are small, like sneezing, itchiness, and rashes. However, there are occasions where you may experience cramping, swelling, or increased dizziness.
Breast pain caused by menopause is generally considered to be either mild or to max out at discomfort. This mainly goes for the way you feel when pressure is put on the breast, even if it’s minimal. If your chest is either sore or tender at the touch, it could be from the menopause you’re going through.
The specific imbalance of hormones can lead to breast pain that varies from person to person. The same goes for how intense the pain is. However, if you’re suffering through this consistently for months, or if the pain is too severe, that would be the time to consult with a doctor. The same goes if you find a lump or nipple discharge.
It’s probably the most noticeable symptom of menopause, at least from a physical standpoint.
The estrogen deficiency that comes along with menopause causes this, as hair follicles require estrogen to grow. Without it, you will begin to see hair loss or at least the thinning of your hair. It can happen to hair all over the body, from your head to your pubic area, and be either sudden or happen over a lengthy period. Either way, as long as it doesn’t come with some other aspects of poor health, it can be treatable.
These symptoms are just piling up. Dizziness can be a very troubling one. Feeling like you’re spinning when you’re just sitting or standing still is tough enough on its own.
Add in lightheadedness, feeling unsteady, and some of these other symptoms, and you’ll find yourself having a rough time. The dizziness caused again by the change in estrogen your body goes through, can also be coupled with having trouble balancing, even when just standing around.
The other symptom on the list of the most physically noticeable. Weight gain is a side effect of many medications for the same reason that it typically occurs during menopause.
There’s a fluctuation of hormone levels, and it redistributes fat. When fewer estrogen hormones are circulating, the body retains more fat cells as an alternative.
Usually, this weight gain is mostly clear around the waist, where you tend to thicken up. Also, you’ll find yourself with lower levels of testosterone and a decreased metabolic rate. Due to that, you’ll need to consume fewer calories per day during and after going through menopause.
Lastly, if you think no longer having to deal with PMS means no more bloating, you’ll be sad to hear that’s incorrect. Bloating is another side effect during menopause.
Itchiness and Tingling Sensations
This can be connected to the allergies as mentioned above. During perimenopause, your estrogen levels drop and so does the body’s production of collagen.
Without as much collagen being produced, it begins to take effect on your skin, and that causes skin dryness, which leads to itchiness. That makes this one of the most frustrating things that can happen because of menopause. While ointments can help, to fully work on this problem, you’ll need to fix the hormonal imbalance first.
The tingling sensation will most likely be felt throughout your extremities. For the most part, it’s a harmless symptom, but things like a compressed artery or a pinched nerve could be behind it all. However, it’s usually just a similar feeling to when your hand or foot falls “asleep.”
Anxiety and Depression
Here are two symptoms that sort of go hand in hand, even though they’re usually viewed as two different things. Most people associate anxiety with things being sped up, while they see depression as something slow.
Still, going through menopause can cause you to experience both. The changes your body goes through may see you feeling sad or down at the most unexpected times. On the flip side, you also may find yourself feeling anxious, uneasy, or jumpy about what may happen next. This can lead to shortness of breath and further complications with your heart.
We’re up to the final two symptoms, and they’re the two that could be the most damaging.
Osteoporosis is up first, and for those unaware, it is a degenerative bone disorder. That means your bones will weaken, thin out, and there will be a general decrease in both bone mass and bone density. Most of our lives, old bone gets replaced by new bone cells, but during menopause, bone growth is negatively affected. By the age of 35, there will be less bone growth than there is bone removal.
Estrogen is part of a process of calcium absorption into the bones, so with the drop in estrogen comes an acceleration in bone density. Osteoporosis makes your bones more susceptible to fractures, bruises, and breaks.
This is one that can be incredibly problematic if you don’t pay close attention to it. Anytime you feel things aren’t going generally with your heartbeat; it’s cause for concern. You’ll feel a pounding in your chest, or a sudden, rapid increase in the speed of the beat and it worries you. A lack of estrogen has been known to over stimulate your nervous and circulatory systems.
In turn, that causes heart palpitations and certain arrhythmias. There’s a chance this could be a sign of something more serious, and as always, if it involves your heart, you should consult a medical professional to be safe.
Those are the main symptoms you’ll find during menopause. Of course, there are still some other, lesser symptoms. Those include stress incontinence, changes in body odor, brittle nails, panic, irritability, gum problems, shock sensation, and burning tongue.
If you came here to find out about the symptoms of menopause, you’re probably also concerning yourself with how to combat those symptoms. Considering this long list, it’s okay to feel like you might be helpless in the fight against menopause. After all, there is no “cure” for menopause, and it’s an unavoidable situation. Despite that, you can use some products to help manage menopause. So, just what are some of these options?
One of the biggest and most popular ideas to sue when going through menopause is HRT, better known as hormone replacement therapy. It’s been used for decades. Despite that, there have been some long-term studies to show that HRT leads to an increased risk of blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, and possibly cancer.
It’s best to weigh all your options before officially deciding on one. You’ll want the one with the least risks and to take the lowest effective dose.
Still, HRT isn’t the only way to help manage menopause. There are ways to reduce the pain and discomfort that comes with it. You can try other versions of therapy to cope with the changes your body will go through.
The bone health and weight gain could be offset by exercising more and adopting a better diet. There are medications to help with osteoporosis and lubricants for the vaginal dryness and pain.
Though all these symptoms are listed, there’s only one guarantee with menopause. Infertility is the only real inevitability. And even if you experience most of these symptoms, there are plenty of women who come out on the other side of menopause feeling more confident and like they’ve gained wisdom.
The experience you have could make for a difficult twelve months, but knowing the symptoms and length should allow you to treat yourself with tiptop care during this time.