Menopause Signs & Symptoms
It’s like the old saying: you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. The thought of your periods stopping for good, never to return, may seem utterly exhilarating at first – after all, who would actually miss all that drama? But as the time gets closer, the whole affair can actually feel a little bit scary.
Sure, you’re hardly going to shed a tear when the curtain comes down on the monthly cramps and sprints to the midnight pharmacy for tampons and paracetamol.
Never having PMS again for the rest of your life may sound like absolute bliss, but what's really going to happen to you when it’s finally all over? And how do you even know you’re on this fateful path of no return?
Every woman has their own experience, but if you're unsure of what to expect or looking to understand more about what can or might happen to your body throughout this tumultuous time, please read on.
What is menopause exactly?
Menopause simply describes the point at which you haven’t had a period for a year or more, and it marks the end of your reproductive years (not to be confused with amenorrhea, which is when your periods stop prematurely).
So that’s it, right? You have your last period. You reach menopause. Game over.
But for the vast majority of women it’s not that simple. For years before you have your final period, you may suffer a range of perimenopause symptoms (some experts say this stage can last as long as 10 years).
Then, even after you have had your last period, you could go on to experience further symptoms, many of which you may have already run into during perimenopause. Menopause symptoms, says the NHS, last an average of about four years, though for one in 10 they can last as much as 12 years.
Here's a quick break-down of the most commonly reported symptoms:
|Irregular periods||Hot flushes|
|Lighter or heavier periods||Night sweats|
|Worse PMS||Poor sleep and insomnia|
|Weight gain||Low sex drive|
|Low sex drive||Memory and concentration difficulties|
|Memory and concentration difficulties||Depression|
|Aching muscles||Mood changes|
|Persistent urinary tract infections||Aching, stiff joints|
|Persistent urinary tract infections|
Of course, you could be one of the lucky ones and sail through the transition without breaking a sweat. But the odds are against you, since only two in 10 women experience no additional symptoms after their periods stop.
Did you know? During perimenopause your fertility drops, but you can still get pregnant (if this isn’t something you want, keep using birth control until you’ve gone for a complete year without having a period).
How do you know when it will happen?
Sadly there’s no hard and fast rule as to what age any woman will reach menopause, though we have a fairly good idea, give or take a year or 10. According to the NHS, menopause usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55, the average age being 51.
But some women – around one in 100 – experience an early menopause, which is when they have their last period before they hit 40 (the medical term is premature ovarian insufficiency). Others can experience menopause symptoms as a result of having cancer treatment or after having their ovaries surgically removed.
Did you know? When it comes to getting the best idea of when you’ll get to menopause, mother knows best! Researchers have discovered almost half of daughters reach menopause around the same age as their mums did. Studies also claim smoking, body weight, ethnicity and oral contraceptive history can influence when you have your last period.
Why is this happening to my body?
Meanwhile you’ve probably guessed that all the symptoms and physical effects of both perimenopause and menopause are all down to one thing: hormones.
Perimenopause symptoms start when your ovaries begin to produce less oestrogen (as well as uneven levels of oestrogen, hence the erratic periods). This happens gradually, until you’re producing so little oestrogen that your ovaries give up releasing any more eggs. And no more eggs, means no more periods, means menopause.
Declining and low levels of oestrogen and progesterone – the other main female sex hormone – are responsible for the rest of those bothersome perimenopause and menopause symptoms too. They can even increase your risk of health issues such as heart disease, stroke and thinning bones (osteoporosis).
Did you know? Experts have a theory that declining oestrogen levels during menopause could have something to do with the development of Alzheimer’s disease, since Alzheimer’s is more common in women than in men.
It’s a fact that menopause is inevitable for the majority of women. But for those who struggle with its symptoms there is a bright side. As medical and nutritional research progress, the number of options for easing the transition from pre-menopause to post-menopause and improving female quality of life are growing. And amen to that.
We know much more about medical treatments like HRT these days than we used to, which means this approach is more effective and safer now for lots of women. And if you prefer to go down a more natural route, there are plenty of science-backed natural and nutritional choices you can make too.
Where menopause or any other health issue is concerned, always check with your GP or pharmacist if you’re considering taking a natural supplement and are already taking any regular prescribed or over-the-counter medicines.
If you'd like to find out more about the nutrients and supplements that can be useful in reducing menopause symptoms, please see VitaBright's Hormone Balance Supplements.