Menopause is the natural progression of female body towards massive hormonal changes that end her reproductive potential. Although typically you start to see signs of menopause around 50 years of age but many women face it in their early 40s or even mid-30s because of various reasons.
Menopause brings an end to your periods and a consequent conclusion to your fertile years. Your body gives many signs that you are headed for menopause, and they start to appear months or even years before your period actually comes to a halt.
These signs are mostly caused by fluctuating hormone levels and you may experience these for upto seven years before your final period. This stage is called perimenopause.
If you are facing menopausal signs at a younger age and you are worried about getting pregnant later, you might want to get fertility investigations and consider egg freezing to preserve your fertility potential.
So what are these signs that indicate that your reproductive years might soon be coming to a close? Let’s take a look below:
- Irregular periods – Changes in menstruation are different for different women.
You will likely experience some irregularity in your periods at the time of perimenopause—the periods may be absent for a few months and then suddenly return, or you may simply experience one or two missed periods.
Your periods may also become heavier or lighter than before, and they often happen after shorter durations.
Getting pregnant is difficult in this phase of menstruation, but it is still possible as long as you have not hit menopause.
Even though ovulation is still happening, it is imperative that the quality of your eggs is viable for a successful pregnancy at this stage.
If the eggs are not good you might not be able to conceive or even if you do, the pregnancy might get terminated due to embryo arrest. You will likely be recommended IVF with donor eggs in such a scenario.
- Hot flashes – This is one of the most common signs of menopause in women. Hot flashes are felt as sudden increase in body temperature. It may be limited to upper body or may spread all through the body. You will sweaty and flushed and your face may turn red from the heat.
Some women experience mild hot flashes, while for others they come on quite strong and even wake them up at night (night sweats). It can last from 30 seconds to 10 minutes.
According to the National Institute on Ageing, the frequency of hot flashes varies from woman to woman—some get them several times an hour while for others it happens only a few times a day, or just once or twice a week.
Try to wear light, cotton clothes and keep yourself hydrated to improve these symptoms. If however, the severity of hot flashes is disrupting your normal life, you must see your doctor.
- Loss of libido – Loss of sex drive is common because of reduced estrogen—the primary female sex hormone. Reduction in estrogen is responsible for vaginal dryness, delayed clitoral reaction, and slow orgasmic response. Dryness may also cause the sex to be painful in some women, which is also responsible for their reduced inclination for sex.
Some women also report that they enjoy better sex after menopause as now they don’t have to worry about getting pregnant.
If you are bothered by the reduced sex drive, your doctor can prescribe medications for reducing pain and improving your sex life after menopause.
- Urinary incontinence & infections – Bladder control becomes poor and you may feel a constant urge to urinate even when your bladder is not full. This happens because your urethral and vaginal tissues lose their elasticity and the surrounding pelvic muscles also lose their strength.
You should do some kegel exercise to strengthen your pelvic muscles and abstain from excessive alcohol or caffeine.
You also become more prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs) after menopause because of vaginal dryness. If you feel uncomfortable itchy and dry in that region, immediately seek your doctor’s advice for antibiotics.
- General aches and pains in the body – With lowering levels of estrogen, you become more prone to osteoporosis. Your bones become brittle, and ligaments and cartilages become weak.
Some women also start to experience chest pain with menopause, as the cardiac muscles and blood vessels become thick.
Calcium and Vitamin D supplements are recommended in women to improve bone health.
- Physical changes – With these hormonal fluctuations, your metabolism also slows down and weight begins to pile up. Your breasts lose their fullness and your entire body may feel different. With the loss of fatty tissue and collagen, your skin becomes thinner and drier and starts to sag a little.
Your hair and nails become brittle and dry and you may find that you become tired and depressed with little provocation.
You must cut down your diet as you age, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy balance of nutrients to remain fit and vigorous.
- Mood swings – Women are known to become moody during PMS but why do mood swings happen even after the periods stop? Menopause doesn’t happen overnight. Over the years as your body slows down its reproductive potential, you will face massive hormonal fluctuations, which are responsible for irritability, anxiety, and depression.
- Insomnia – Getting a good night’s sleep becomes difficult for some women as they approach the menopausal age. It maybe that the hormone-induced depression is causing you to sleep late or that night sweats are waking you in the middle of the night.
It is advisable to practice breathing techniques and meditation to relax your mind. Also, if you exercise during the day, you’d be quite tired and sleepy when you hit the bed.
Avoid cell phones and computers near your bed time as the blue light is known to disrupt natural sleep. You can take a hot shower, read a book, or just listen to some mellow music to sleep better.
- Digestive problems – if you are experiencing gas and stomach pain that you never felt before, it could be blamed upon the hormonal imbalance that disturbs the passage of food through your gut.
Some people become more sensitive to foods like wheat and dairy, while others have poor digestion because of stress. Exercising and maintaining a food diary are the best ways to avoid digestive problems during menopause.
- Memory loss – Inability to concentrate, memory lapses, and forgetfulness are often noted in women approaching menopause. These are caused by increased stress and lowering levels of estrogens.
One or two missed appointments or misplaced car keys are nothing to worry about, but if you feel you are really losing your memory, you might want to seek medical advice.
Period problems and most of the symptoms given above can be caused by several factors and it does not necessarily mean you are nearing menopause. You must see your doctor to know if the abnormal symptoms you are facing are actually caused by menopausal transition.
Your doctor may suggest doing some hormonal tests—follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estradiol (E2)—to ensure that menopause is responsible for the changes you’re experiencing.