Menopause Symptoms: What To Expect

young woman with older woman
Menopause is the permanent end of menstruation and it can have a significant impact on a woman’s health.

Although menopause can cause many troubling symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats, it can also begin a rewarding phase of a woman’s life.

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What Causes Menopause?

Age is the leading cause of menopause. It’s the end of a woman’s potential childbearing years, brought on by the ovaries gradually slowing down their function. Certain surgeries and medical treatment can induce menopause. Those include surgical removal of the ovaries (bilateral oopharectomy), chemotherapy, and pelvic radiation therapy. Having a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) without removing the ovaries does not lead to menopause, although you will not have periods anymore.

When Does Menopause Start?

On average, women are 51 at natural menopause, notes the National Institute on Aging. But menopause can start earlier or later. A few women start menopause as young as 40, and a very small percentage as late as 60. Women who smoke tend to go through menopause a few years earlier than nonsmokers. There is no proven way to predict menopause age. It’s only after a woman has missed her periods for 12 straight months, without other obvious causes, that menopause can be confirmed.

What Is Perimenopause?

Natural menopause happens gradually. The ovaries don’t abruptly stop working; they slow down. The transition to menopause is called perimenopause. Menopause is a milestone — it’s the day that marks 12 months in a row since a woman’s last period. During perimenopause, it’s still possible to get pregnant — a woman’s childbearing years are winding down, and although her periods may become more unpredictable, her ovaries are still functioning and she still may ovulate, though not necessarily on a monthly basis.

The Menopause Experience: Symptoms To Expect

Menopause isn’t a one-size-fits-all event. It affects each woman differently. Some women reach natural menopause with little to no trouble; others experience severe symptoms that drastically hamper their lives. And when menopause starts suddenly as a result of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, the adjustment can be tough. Here is a look at menopausal symptoms that many women experience, though the intensity can vary.

Period Changes. As menopause approaches, a woman’s menstrual periods will likely change. But those changes can vary from woman to woman — periods may get shorter or longer, heavier or lighter, with more or less time between periods. Such changes are normal, but the National Institute on Aging recommends seeing a doctor if your periods come very close together, if you have heavy bleeding or spotting, and if your periods last more than a week.

Hot Flashes. Hot flashes (or hot flushes) are common around menopause. A hot flash is a brief feeling of heat that may make the face and neck flushed, cause temporary red blotches to appear on the chest, back, and arms. Sweating and chills may follow. Hot flashes vary in intensity and typically last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes. Dressing in light layers, using a fan, getting regular exercise, avoiding spicy foods and heat, and managing stress may help you deal with hot flashes.

Sleep Problems. Nighttime hot flashes can hamper sleep and cause night sweats.

A few helpful tips include:

  • Use a fan in your bedroom
  • Avoid heavy bedding
  • Choose light cottons or sheer materials for your nightclothes
  • Keep a damp cloth nearby to cool yourself quickly if you wake up feeling hot and sweaty
  • Keep pets out of your bedroom; they can give off heat
  • Talk to your health care provider if your sleep problems are ongoing or bother you

Sex Problems. Less estrogen can lead to vaginal dryness, which may make intercourse uncomfortable or painful. Try using a water-soluble lubricant. Libido may also change, for better or worse, but many factors besides menopause — including stress, medications, depression, poor sleep, and relationship problems — affect sex drive. Talk to your doctor if sex problems occur — don’t settle for a so-so sex life. And remember, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) don’t end with menopause; “safer” sex still counts.

Menopause Health Risks

Menopause Health Risks

With menopause comes a greater chance of heart disease , which is the greatest cause of death for U.S. women. Loss of estrogen may play a role for heart disease after menopause, but hormone replacement therapy is not recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke. It’s important to talk to a doctor about ways to step up your heart health game.