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Feature:
Menopause: A Woman's Change of Life

Menopause Symptoms

Woman smiling

Women may have different signs or symptoms at menopause. That's because estrogen is used by many parts of your body. So, as you have less estrogen, you could have various symptoms. Here are the most common changes you might notice at midlife. Some may be part of aging rather than menopause.

Mood Changes

You might find yourself more moody or irritable around the time of menopause. Scientists don't know why this happens. It's possible that stress, family changes such as growing children or aging parents, a history of depression, or feeling tired could be causing these mood changes.

Your body seems different.

Your waist could get larger. You could lose muscle and gain fat. Your skin could get thinner. You might have memory problems, and your joints and muscles could feel stiff and achy. Are these a result of having less estrogen or just related to growing older? Experts don't know the answer.

Change in your period.

This might be what you notice first. Your periods may no longer be regular. They may be shorter or last longer. You might bleed less than usual, or more. These are all normal changes, but to make sure there isn't a problem, see your health professional if:

  • Your periods come very close together
  • You have heavy bleeding
  • You have spotting
  • Your periods last more than a week

Sex.

You may find that your feelings about sex are changing. You could be less interested. Or, you could feel freer and sexier after menopause. After 1 full year without a period, you can no longer become pregnant. But remember, you could still be at risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as gonorrhea or even HIV/AIDS.

Hot flashes.

Many women have hot flashes around the time of menopause. They may be related to changing estrogen levels. Hot flashes may last a few years after menopause. A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat in the upper part or all of your body. Your face and neck become flushed. Red blotches may appear on your chest, back, and arms. Heavy sweating and cold shivering can follow. Flashes can be very mild or strong enough to wake you from your sleep (called night sweats). Most hot flashes last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes.

Sleep.

Around midlife, some women start having trouble getting a good night's sleep. Maybe you can't fall asleep easily, or you wake too early. Night sweats might wake you up. You might have trouble falling back to sleep if you wake during the night.

Problems with your vagina and bladder.

Changing estrogen levels can cause your genital area to get drier and thinner. This could make sexual intercourse uncomfortable. Or, you could have more vaginal or urinary infections. Some women find it hard to hold their urine long enough to get to the bathroom. Sometimes urine leaks during exercise, sneezing, coughing, laughing, or running.

Other Physical Changes

Two common health problems can start to happen at menopause, and you might not even notice.

Osteoporosis.

Day in and day out, your body is busy breaking down old bone and replacing it with new healthy bone. Estrogen helps control bone loss, and losing estrogen around the time of menopause causes women to lose more bone than is replaced. In time, bones can become weak and break easily. This condition is called osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor to see if you should have a bone density test to find out if you are at risk. Your doctor can also suggest ways to prevent or treat osteoporosis.

Heart disease.

After menopause, women are more likely to have heart disease. Changes in estrogen levels may be part of the cause. But so is getting older. As you age, you may gain weight and develop other problems, like high blood pressure. These could put you at greater risk for heart disease. Be sure to have your blood pressure and levels of triglycerides, fasting blood glucose, and LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol checked regularly. Talk to your health care provider to find out what you should do to protect your heart.

Read More "Menopause: A Woman's Change of Life" Articles

Understanding and Managing Menopause / Menopause: Every Experience is Different / Menopause Symptoms / Menopause Treatments / Staying Healthy After Menopause

Spring 2013 Issue: Volume 8 Number 1 Page 16