Every woman will experience menopause differently. You might have symptoms that are barely noticeable, while your friends could experience almost all of them. Listed below are the most common symptoms women have—from perimenopause through postmenopause:
Especially during perimenopause, your menstruation may become irregular. You can start to experience missed periods, unusually heavy flow during some months and atypical spotting or bleeding. Once you are in full menopause, your menstruation stops completely and any bleeding you experience after that point should be evaluated by your OB/GYN or health professional. You could still be fertile during perimenopause.
A hot flash is a sudden, intense surge of heat that spreads over your body, concentrating in the head, neck and chest areas. This sensation of heat can be accompanied by flushing (turning red in the face and chest), an elevated heart rate and perspiration. Hot flashes last from 30 seconds to several minutes and can occur several times a day or only a few times a week. They can happen at any time, but are often triggered by a warm environment, physical exertion or stress. When hot flashes wake you during sleep, they are called "night sweats." Although the exact cause of hot flashes and night sweats are not completely understood, most research suggests they are due to a woman's fluctuating hormone levels.
Some women experience a sudden elevation in their heart rate that feels like their heart is racing or pounding or having palpitations. You might even notice a slight shortness of breath. While this is usually in conjunction with hot flashes or night sweats, you may notice an increase of perspiration with an elevated heart rate that is independent of the hot flashes. This combination of hot flashes, perspiration, and an increased heart rate can happen day or night, unfortunately disturbing your sleep as well.
Your hormone fluctuations can cause all kinds of mood changes, such as irritability, anxiety, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness and depression. Depression is already more common in women than men, and if you have been previously diagnosed with depression, you are more likely to experience depressive symptoms--especially during perimenopause. These symptoms can include a loss of interest in your normal activities, weight loss or gain, sadness, hopeless feelings, irritability and tiredness.
Insomnia is something many women encounter when they enter menopause. Your core body temperature needs to cool off at night in order to sleep, and hot flashes and night sweats suddenly raise your temperature in the middle of the night, causing your sleep to be disturbed. Other symptoms such as stress, anxiety and depression can also interrupt a good night’s sleep.
Uncomfortable vaginal symptoms may occur when the lining and tissues of the vagina become drier, thinner and less elastic due to the decline of estrogen. The loss of natural lubrication can cause itching, irritation and vaginal discomfort. Some women feel this affects their sexual desire, arousal and can even cause pain during sexual intercourse and other sexual activity.
Similar to the changes in the vagina, the lining of your urinary tract can become drier, thinner, and less elastic. This could lead to an increased need to urinate and a loss of muscle control (leakage of urine)—especially when coughing or laughing. The risk for urinary tract infections (UTIs) is greater as well.