Menopause is a huge and inevitable change in a woman’s body, but it shouldn’t have to change how they enjoy life. This can start as early as the mid-30s for some women who enter early perimenopause. We’re here to help you navigate the often confusing and overwhelming symptoms so you can identify them early and get support before they impact your quality of life. Call the Center for Women’s Health in Oxford, NC and talk to one of our specialists.
What Is Menopause?
When women are in their teens and 20s, they know about it but have no personal experience, so they can’t even imagine it because it seems so far away. But, oh, how time flies, and soon women need to know all about the new state they find themselves in. Medically, menopause marks the end of a woman’s physical capacity to bear children.
During this phase of a woman’s life, her reproductive system will become more dormant and her menstrual cycle will stop completely. The system doesn’t shut down: it just has less of an impact on her overall physiology and fewer hormones are produced. In our everyday lives, however, it is much more than just this textbook definition.
Perimenopause is considered the transition into menopause and it’s when symptoms first become apparent. The typical age women will begin to see the onset of symptoms sometime in her 40s. This stage lasts until the ovaries stop releasing eggs.
Perimenopause usually lasts around four years but can be as short as a few months or last up to ten years. This phase officially ends when a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 consecutive months.
Symptoms of Menopause
Often, women aren’t sure there’s a reason for how they’re feeling. They just know they’re experiencing things that are causing them to not feel like themselves. As a society, we’re just coming out of an old medical mindset of not treating these symptoms as seriously as women needed us to. Luckily, there are now clinics centered on women and their wellbeing.
We’re listing symptoms for you, but know that this is not a comprehensive list. Each woman’s journey is different, so if you think you’re experiencing the symptoms, talk to your doctor or specialist.
This is a pretty sure sign that your hormones are changing. You always want to check with your doctor to make sure there isn’t an underlying health issue. This symptom can look different for everyone:
- Fewer periods
- More time between periods
- Less time between periods
- Heavier flow
- Lighter flow
- Shorter or longer periods
You can have a combination of these symptoms all in one year. You may experience a few long periods followed by quick and light ones. It’s a good idea to keep track of your cycle to find a pattern, if any, and talk it over with your specialist.
Your hormones are slowing down, but you’re also losing collagen in your vaginal tissue. When collagen declines, so does hyaluronic acid, a sugar that our bodies make to lubricate our skin and tissues. A drop in natural lubrication can make sex painful and may make women avoid the activity.
Reduced Sex Drive
Sex being uncomfortable plays a role in this symptom, but it’s not solely responsible. Our hormones don’t activate our sex drive the way they do when we’re young. During ovulation, we have a hormone spike that increases our sexual drive. When this cycle stops or is disrupted, our desire for sexual intimacy declines.
This is really three symptoms rolled into one. Each of these symptoms involves the hypothalamus in our brains running a little amuck. The thought is that the hormone fluctuations disrupt how this part of the brain works with the nerves that signal our sweat glands.
Many people who haven’t experienced a hot flash make the mistake of thinking these just make you feel like the room is hot. Women describe this as heat pouring out of their bodies. Hot flashes can cause:
- Red and splotchy skin on the face, chest, and back
- Skin that’s hot to the touch
These are notorious for plaguing women and disrupting their sleep. Women will wake up in a pool of sweat. Their sheets and pajamas will be damp, and they’ll be woken up by feeling they’re overheating. This is the hypothalamus sending impulses to the nerves that control sweat glands and triggering them to produce sweat.
This is the natural progression of overheating. When your body sweats, the surrounding air cools that sweat on the skin, bringing down your core temperature, which can lead to a feeling of having the chills.
A hot flash that ends in chills can all happen in a short period of sometimes just minutes. Women can suffer from several hot flashes an hour, a day or just have a few over the course of their entire lives.
Hormones can make women very sleepy and unable to feel completely rested but also unable to fall asleep at night. Women who were reluctant to talk to a professional about their symptoms or were brushed off by one have reported feeling exhausted for years.
Seeking help by talking to a specialist can help you be better able to settle into a sleep schedule again and feel rested after sleep.
When our hormones drop, so goes our metabolism. At some point in women’s 40s, their metabolism slows, and those extra five pounds that used to be a snap to lose in their 30s can seem insurmountable. There are some hormone therapies that can help, but most address other issues.
Following a new diet and exercise routine is the biggest favor you can do your metabolism. Working with a specialist is a good step too.
Jokes are made about women’s mood swings almost as though the woman is enjoying her mood swings, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. What may look like a swing to someone on the outside is really that emotion to the woman experiencing it.
We all remember what it was like to be a teenager and how miserable that can feel. This is much the same. A woman can experience severe mood swings several times an hour, a day, or less often.
This can come on quickly and sharply. Some women have said they lived in a constant state of frustration until they found a specialist who would listen and help.
This can easily turn into depression. There are a few factors at play here. One is the hormone fluctuation that changes the mood. The other is the loss of what society has said is important for women to be and what we think of as youthfulness and vitality.
Seeking help from a specialist can help reframe these thoughts and help with the chemical mood swings.
It isn’t unusual for women to feel separated from their lives and even themselves. This is a new state of being and can be a difficult transition.
Having a “short fuse” is a hallmark of this stage of life. Doctors aren’t sure why, but they think it has something to do with fluctuations in estrogen specifically.
We all lose collagen as we age, about 1% per year after we’re in our early 20s, but it’s thought women can lose up to 30% more throughout and after menopause. What does this look like?
When you lose collagen, the middle layer of your skin weakens, and this causes your thinning skin to fall into those weaknesses, making lines, wrinkles and folds worse. You’ll see these on your face, chest, knees, and hands first.
The loss of collagen can lead to larger areas of lost volume. If your cheekbones used to be high and prominent, you may see they’ve lost their height, and you could have areas on your face that appear hollow. The same happens on the backs of the hands.
Probably one of the most dreaded signs of aging is the sagging skin that happens on our necks and jowls.
When the collagen in your body decreases, it decreases everywhere, including the vagina. You may feel you’ve lost elasticity and your vulva may look different. This is exacerbated in women who have had children.
This can be minor or severe. Maybe it’s just when you sneeze or go for a run, or maybe it’s much worse. Either way, this can be embarrassing and cause women to become socially withdrawn.
Your Body Feels Different
Maybe you haven’t gained weight, but it’s being redistributed. You could see fat shift from your hips to your middle section and your legs may thin out. Your joints might ache or you may become more prone to headaches.
This is a completely individualized set of symptoms. There are random symptoms that women experience that doctors can’t explain, but they’re real. Some of these symptoms can be:
- Noise or light sensitivity
- Heart palpitations
- Caffeine sensitivity
- Sore muscles
- Restless legs
We encourage you to have a notebook and write down any symptoms you feel so you can have them addressed. Each one that causes you discomfort is worth bringing up, talking through, and looking for solutions to it. This journal can help you track symptoms that might be getting worse or have a pattern.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
When or if to start HRT is a personal decision and one you should make with your specialist. You must be aware of the risks and the rewards of this therapy. Many women find relief from the most severe symptoms by using HRT.
There are many options, combinations, and choices available for women, so if one dose or combination of hormones doesn’t work for you, another one might. Working with the right specialist will ensure you keep working toward an answer together.
Call for a Consultation
If you’ve started to experience some of these symptoms and aren’t sure where you are in the process, or if you’re in the middle of it and are looking for relief, there are answers.
Call the Center for Women’s Health in Oxford, NC and make an appointment to talk to one of our specialists. We have many options to make this process one that doesn’t disrupt your quality of life. We’re committed to helping you achieve an overall sense of health and wellbeing no matter what stage of life you’re in!