Menopause symptoms and testing
What are the symptoms of the menopause?
Most women will experience signs of menopause and these symptoms can be mild or quite severe. Everyone’s body is different and so is everyone’s experience of the menopause.
Menopause symptoms can include:
- Irregular periods– your menstrual cycle can change during the menopause; you might find that your periods are infrequent, longer, heavier, lighter or more regular. You may have spotting in between your periods – the menopause affects women’s periods in different ways.
- Hot flushes or Hot flashes - these tend to be very short but intense and can affect how well you sleep. During the menopause you might experience feelings of intense heat that can make your face and neck blotchy. Hot flashes can also lead to sweating and sometimes dizziness.
- Night sweats – similarly to hot flushes, during the menopause night sweats can disrupt your sleep. Your body temperature can change throughout the night, causing you to wake up and struggle to get to sleep.
- Vaginal dryness – As oestrogen levels in the body fall this can affect the cells in the lining of the vagina. These can become thinner and dryer who can make sex painful and uncomfortable.
- Difficulty sleeping – you might find it harder to fall asleep or wake up multiple times in the night. Insomnia can be linked to their menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and feelings of anxiety.
- Low mood - During the menopause you could find that your mood changes too, you may become more irritable, feel anxious, confused or experience depression. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and that talking about your feelings can really help you feel like yourself again.
- Reduced sex drive – the levels of oestrogen and testosterone in the body fall during and after the menopause which can cause you to lose interest in sex.
- Memory and concentration problems
- Dry skin – As your oestrogen levels drop the production of collagen and elastin in your skin also reduces. You may notice that your skin is thinner, looser and more wrinkles may appear too.
- Muscle and joint pain – during the menopause you may experience, aches, stiffness and swelling around your joints. The pain might be worse in the morning but improve throughout the day.
Will I gain weight during the menopause?
Many women experience weight gain as they age, however this is not inevitable and just because you are going through the menopause does not mean you will put on weight. The hormonal changes you are experiencing can cause you to gain weight around your stomach, although this can be down to aging, lifestyle and genetic factors.
During the menopause you may find it harder to sleep or you may not be getting enough sleep, this may mean that you gain weight. When we’re tired we tend to consume more calories by snacking more and reaching for sugary food to give us a boost of energy. Making sure that you stay active and eat a healthy balanced diet can help you to avoid the weight gain that is associated with the menopause.
What are the signs of early menopause?
When the menopause happens before the age of 45 it is referred to as early menopause or premature menopause, this is when your periods stop. Symptoms of early menopause are exactly the same as those for menopause, so you may notice hot flushes, night sweats and difficulty sleeping. As well as your periods becoming less frequent or stopping altogether.
Early menopause can occur for many reasons:
- Your ovaries stop making certain hormones such as oestrogen
- Cancer treatments
- Removing the ovaries through surgery
Can I check whether I have gone through the menopause?
It’s not always easy to say for certain that the menopause is taking place especially if your periods have always been irregular. However there are tests you can take which measure the levels of Follicle-Stimulating Hormones (FSH) in the body. Your ovaries produce oestrogen and when your production of oestrogen is slowed down the levels of FSH are increased. A menopause test can detect the changing FSH levels and tell you if you have begun the menopause.
What age can you start the menopause?
The menopause tends to start when you reach your mid 40s, and this is called the perimenopause and your symptoms are mild.
How long does it take to go through menopause?
The length of the menopause can vary from woman to woman, however the average length of the menopause is four years. During this time your symptoms will gradually ease and your periods will completely stop.
Can you get pregnant when you are in menopause?
Yes, you can still become pregnant during the menopause even though your periods might be irregular. It is possible to naturally conceive until your mid-fifties and women are considered to be infertile when they haven’t had a period for two years.