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  • A guide to menopause symptoms: what every woman should know

A guide to menopause symptoms: what every woman should know

Menopause is a naturally occurring part of ageing. It causes many women serious discomfort. However, even though every woman will go through it, few women understand the symptoms and seek help.

Keep reading to learn more about menopause symptoms, what causes them and what you can do to treat them.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Plauto Filho Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 28-09-2023

What causes menopause symptoms?

Menopause is a period where women permanently stop having menstrual periods and can no longer have children. It’s a natural process that all women go through.

Your menstrual cycle begins to stop as your ovaries stop producing the hormone oestrogen. This means they stop producing eggs for fertilisation (ovulation).

Oestrogen levels drop, which affects a lot of key functions. From intimate health to bone health, menopause affects the whole body.

When do menopause symptoms start?

Menopause occurs in stages.

The first phase is perimenopause. In this phase, you begin to experience symptoms but you still have your period.

Menopause is the phase where your ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and producing oestrogen. So, your period gradually stops.

The final phase is postmenopause. This is when you have not had a period for 12 months.

Wooden blocks spelling out menopause symptoms on a brown book surrounded by pills and a stethoscope.

The majority of women start to experience perimenopause and menopause symptoms between the ages of 45 - 55. The average age is 51, but everyone is different. Some women don’t start seeing the effects until their 60s.

You cannot predict what age you will start. However, some factors like genetics might affect when they start to occur.

Young women (before the age of 45) can also experience menopause symptoms. Premature menopause can occur due to:

  • premature ovarian failure
  • cancer treatment
  • having both ovaries removed

In these cases, women in their 20s-30s may start experiencing menopause symptoms.

What are the physical symptoms of menopause?

The most noticeable physical symptom and often the first symptom you notice is your periods changing. They become irregular, heavier, and longer or you experience spotting between periods. Eventually, your periods will stop altogether.

However, perimenopausal and postmenopausal women face a multitude of physical effects. There are over 30 registered menopause symptoms. Here are some of the most common ones.

Hot flushes Hot flushes
Sudden sensations of feeling hot or cold in your face, neck or chest. This can also make you feel dizzy.
Difficulty sleeping Difficulty sleeping
Night sweats can keep you up and night and interfere with your sleep.
Heart palpitations Heart palpitations
Your heartbeat may suddenly become more noticeable.
Worse headaches or migraine Worse headaches or migraine
Hormone changes can intensify and cause worse headaches or migraine.
Muscle, bone and joint pain Muscle, bone and joint pain
Low oestrogen levels can cause pain and inflammation in your bones, joints and muscles.
Weight gain and body shape changes Weight gain and body shape changes
Slowing metabolism and hormone fluctuations cause women to gain weight - especially around the middle.
Itchy or dry skin Itchy or dry skin
Your skin loses the ability to hold water during menopause so it can become dry or itchy.
Low sex drive Low sex drive
Discomfort, vaginal dryness and hormonal changes can cause low libido during menopause.
Vaginal dryness Vaginal dryness
Low oestrogen reduces elasticity and wetness in the vagina.
Recurrent urinary tract infections Recurrent urinary tract infections
The vaginal tissue becomes thinner during menopause, making you more prone to UTIs.

What are the mental symptoms of menopause?

Many people don’t realise that menopause has a significant impact on the mind as well. The discomfort, symptoms and feelings about ageing cause many negative emotions.

Graphic showing the mental symptoms of menopause.

One 2021 UK survey Trusted source Frontiers Peer-reviewed Journals Multidisciplinary Scientific Research Go to source found that menopause significantly impacts women's mental health.

  • 86% of women struggled with mental health issues.
  • 58% reported low energy and lack of motivation as the leading mental health symptom.
  • 53% reported low mood or anxiety, 42% reported anger and mood swings and 33% reported feelings of worthlessness.
  • 9% admitted to contemplating suicide.

Women also reported how much the menopausal transition impacted their relationships, work and hobbies.

What are the symptoms of early menopause?

The symptoms of early menopause are identical to typical menopause. You will first notice your periods becoming more irregular. Then, you may experience hot flushes or night sweats.

However, many conditions can cause irregular periods. So, you should go to your doctor to rule out any other conditions. It is less likely to be early menopause.

How long do symptoms last?

Symptoms usually start to reduce during postmenopause, usually for around 7 years. However, in some cases, some women’s symptoms last longer.

One study Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source looked specifically at hot flushes. They found that women who had hot flushes at the beginning of menopause had them for up to 10 years.

In some cases, they can last as long as 14 years.

Is it menopause or something else?

Some older women may mistake symptoms of other conditions for menopause.

Menopausal women are at a higher risk of certain cancers. This includes uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and cervical cancer. A key symptom of gynaecological cancers is abnormal vaginal bleeding.

Middle-aged woman sitting down worrying

Abnormal spotting is one of the first signs of menopause, so many older women write off the symptom. You should always go to the doctor for any abnormal bleeding. Especially if you experience other symptoms such as nausea, bloating, weight loss, shortness of breath and feeling full more quickly.

In younger women, irregular periods and other menopause symptoms could be a cause of an underlying health condition:

  • pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) - an infection of the womb, ovaries and fallopian tubes
  • polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) - a hormonal condition that affects how the ovaries work
  • endometriosis - a long-term condition where tissue similar to the womb lining grows elsewhere on the body
  • fibroids - non-cancerous growths that develop in the muscle wall of the womb
  • adenomyosis - a condition where the womb lining grows into the muscle wall of the womb instead
  • thyroid problems

Cancer is uncommon in younger women, but you should always go to the doctor so they can rule it out.

How do I manage menopause symptoms?

The best way to relieve menopause symptoms is hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

HRT works by replacing oestrogen and progesterone levels that drop during menopause. This alleviates the symptoms and lowers the risk of complications like osteoporosis.

There are two types of HRT: Combined and oestrogen-only HRT. Combined HRT is for women who go through natural menopause. Oestrogen-only HRT is for women who have had a hysterectomy.

It is available as patches and tablets. It is also available as a vaginal cream. It provides direct relief for vaginal dryness.

If you are using HRT, you can reorder it online from HealthExpress. You complete a quick consultation that one of our registered doctors will review. Once approved, you will receive your medication straight to your door.

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