Common Signs and Symptoms of Menopause
Written by Angela Counsel
Menopause always seemed to be a scary thing until I reached that stage in life. When I was studying we really didn’t cover much of what happened when women reached their mid-stage of life. We did learn about hot flushes and the drop in eostrogen levels and the best herbs to use to treat these symptoms but I now realise there is so much more to know. Over the past few years I have not only personally experienced a shift in my hormones I have also spent a lot of time learning more about menopause and how it impacts the lives of women around the world. Over the next few blogs I will be covering the physical symptoms with some suggested treatments as well as the emotional and spiritual changes that also happen at this stage of life.
Let’s Define what Menopause is
Let’s start by clarifying some terms that are often mixed up and misunderstood. Firstly menopause simply means cessation of periods and is used retrospectively after a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 months, it is simply a moment in time. The time period before this is known as peri-menopause and the time after is known as post-menopause.
Peri-menopause can last for up to 13 years and this is often when many of the common symptoms associated with menopause occur. Post-menopause obviously lasts for the rest of your life and generally the symptoms can greatly reduce but further changes associated with growing older occur.
Until very recently women were expected to keep quiet about what was happening in their body as they transitioned through this stage of life. It was called “the change” and women were often portrayed as being hot, bitchy and witches, go and do a google search of menopause images and see what comes up. I would guess that many of these so-called funnies were created by men who often can feel threatened by the changes that happens to women at this stage of life. I will cover more about this in another blog post, I will stick to the common symptoms in this post.
Changes in Hormones
At approximately 45 years* of age (and this is very variable) women’s hormone levels can start to change. They ovulate less often as their egg supply dwindles and the less they ovulate the less progesterone they release. Progesterone is a hormone that is released by the egg after it is released from the ovary, it is the hormone that helps to support the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy. Apart from supporting pregnancy progesterone also impacts the brain causing feeling of calmness. It has sedative effects promoting restful sleep and is anti-anxiety. Can you see why when this hormone starts to drop that you might feel a bit tense and have trouble sleeping. Other symptoms that are associated with lower progesterone levels are:
– breast swelling and tenderness
– moods swings
– fuzzy thinking
– trouble sleeping
– fluid retention/bloating
– weight gain
You will notice that these are similar symptoms that many women experience just prior to their monthly period except they may continue for longer if you are not having regular periods.
The next hormone that starts to drop is testosterone. The drop of this hormone is not as great and the symptoms are a bit more subtle and they include:
– decreased sex drive
– decreased sensitivity in erogenous zones
– decreased sense of well-being, energy and ambition
– signs of depression
– thinning of pubic hair
While the progesterone and testosterone levels start dropping the oestrogen levels stay high relative to the other hormones but over time the oestrogen levels start to drop as well causing the following symptoms:
– hot flushes and/or night sweats
– vaginal dryness
– low energy and ambition
– depression and mood swings
– mental confusion
– urinary incontinence
– recurrent urinary tract infections
– higher risk of vaginal infections
You might notice that in at least one of the above lists are some symptoms that you have been experiencing, this could be a sign that you are in the peri-menopause stage of life.
Whilst all of the above hormones are produced by the reproductive organs they are also produced by the adrenal glands. Ideally as your egg supply gets lower the adrenal glands should be able to produce enough hormones so that the drop in hormones from the reproductive glands doesn’t impact your health too much. Unfortunately due to the modern lifestyles many women are living their adrenal glands are tired by the time they reach this stage of life and there is not enough of these hormones produced from the adrenal glands. This is one of the reasons that many women experience severe menopause related symptoms.
The most common symptoms that women experience are:
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats – this is the sudden heating of the body from the inside, it can include sweating and flushing of your face. For some women hot flashes are only a minor discomfort but for others it severely reduces their quality of life. Excessive heat and sweating at night can disturb your sleep along with the physical discomfort that occurs.
Poor Sleep – as mentioned above poor sleep can come with night sweats but for some women they simply find it harder to sleep at night. There might be nights were you feel totally wired and unable to sleep or maybe you are waking at a set time each night.
Infrequent or irregular menstrual bleeding – as your egg supply drops and your hormones shift you can find that your period becomes irregular even if you have always had a very regular cycle. You might miss a month, or have a light bleed one month and a heavy bleed the next, or maybe you seem to be having a period every 2-3 weeks. There are many changes that can happen to your monthly cycle which are part of the menopausal shift. It is quite common for women to not have a period for 3-4 months and then start taking some herbs (which I will cover in the next blog) and then their period starts again and becomes regular.
Vaginal Dryness – this occurs with the drop in oestrogen levels and is not only uncomfortable but can also increase the risk in vaginal infections. There can also be an impact on a woman’s sexual experience both physically and psychologically.
Memory Problems – problems remembering things can be as a result of falling hormone levels but it is also associated with high stress and poor sleep patterns, all issues that can worsen at this stage of life.
Heart Palpitations – waking up with your heart racing can be a common occurrence even if you have a health heart. This is often triggered by a sudden lift in stress hormones or if it happens while you are asleep it could also be related to a drop in insulin levels. Given that heart disease is the biggest killer of women if you suffer from heart palpitations on a regular basis get your heart checked to make sure there is nothing else going on.
Depression or Anxiety – many women can experience depression and/or anxiety at this stage of life. Often is can be related to high stress or worry about ageing. In our western culture there is a lot of negative beliefs around women growing older and this can cause women to feel like their life is over when their children leave home and they no longer in a full parenting role. There are many causes of depression and anxiety and one of the primary causes is feeling alone, this is why I created the Maga Woman Community to provide women with support and friendship.
Heavy bleeding – most women expect that as they transition through peri-menopause that their periods will get lighter until they stop all together. This is not what happens though. It is not unusual to have at least one significantly heavy bleed after several light bleeds, if you continue to have heavy bleeding please make sure you visit a health professional for further investigation.
The menopause transition is different for every woman and while I have described some of the physical symptoms that might occur, they might not happen for you. In the following blog I will share with you some ways that you can manage your symptoms.
Menopause is NOT a medical condition, it is a natural time of change that every woman goes through. Women can experience physical, emotional and spiritual changes during this time. If you see this stage of your life as a time to re-connect to the real you, often the part of you that you left behind in your teens or early twenties, then you often will transition through this stage of life with minimal issues.
Quote from Susun S Weed
The joy of menopause is the world’s best kept secret. Like venturing through the gateway to enter an ancient temple, in order to claim that joy a woman must be willing to pass beyond the monsters who guard its gate…as thousands of women from all cultures throughout history have whispered to each other, it is the most exciting passage a women ever makes”
In the next blog I will share with you some great natural remedies to help you on your journey.
*What I have described is the natural transition into menopause not medically/surgically induced menopause or premature ovarian failure which can happen a lot earlier than 45. Symptoms in these cases can be more severe
This article first appeared in the Maga Woman Magazine a publication for women over 45. You can grab your free copy HERE