Menopause symptom checklist: What to look out for
This checklist will equip you with the tools to navigate those hot flushes, brain fog and the end of your periods.
Ever heard of a menopausal moment? If you have, you’ve probably heard it from one of the women in your life, maybe after she’s forgotten something or reached for the air conditioning remote as an explanation for an action.
Only the action isn’t felt in isolation, in fact, it’s more of a reaction to a very real symptom. Menopause is a phase of life every woman goes through, a bookend to puberty, and one that can come with the same hormonal changes and mood swings, and bring about a new understanding of your body.
So what is menopause? And what can you expect when it begins? This menopause symptom checklist will equip you with the tools to navigate those hot flushes, brain fog and the end of your periods.
What is menopause?
Put simply, menopause is the natural process through which women stop menstruating, marking the end of their reproductive years .
The emphasis here is on process — menopause isn’t the sort of thing that happens all at once, but rather it’s a series of gradual changes, often called perimenopause, that is marked by hot flushes, night sweats, hormonal weight gain such as abdominal weight gain and irregular periods. This culminates with the end of your menstrual cycle and the beginning of a new phase in a woman's life.
What's the difference between perimenopause and menopause?
Perimenopause is the phase that leads to menopause. On average, it lasts between four and six years and occurs as the body starts to age and slow down. This is mostly seen through the ovaries starting to run out of eggs, which has a flow-on effect in changing your hormone levels, particularly oestrogen and progesterone levels .
During this time, you'll experience a lot of different symptoms, but the most common symptoms are changes in your menstrual period. This can be lighter or heavier blood flow or periods that are longer or shorter in duration or with longer or shorter gaps between them.
These changes are normal, but you should speak to your doctor if you have any concerns, particularly if you have other conditions such as polycystic ovaries or endometriosis.
What is the 'normal' menopause age?
The average age for perimenopause to begin is between 44 to 55 years of age, with menopause itself occurring most often around the age of 51 .
What are the symptoms of menopause?
There are many menopausal symptoms to be prepared for, including a range of both mental symptoms and physical symptoms.
These symptoms can be different for everyone, as every person's body is different, so understanding what's normal for you will help you to identify what's not, and ultimately assist you to navigate this new experience of your body.
Many women experience the following menopausal symptoms:
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Insomnia and difficulties with sleep
- Headaches and migraines
- Sore breasts
- Vaginal dryness
- Less saliva and a dry mouth
- Itchy or dry skin
- Aches and pains, particularly in muscles and joints
- Weight gain
- Heart palpitations
- Mood changes, low mood, anxiety and depression
- Feelings of stress and issues with brain fog, memory and focus
- Low sex drive
Can menopause affect my health outside of these symptoms?
Unfortunately, it can. Like with any drastic shift in hormone levels, menopause comes with its own risks. Oestrogen is a crucial hormone for women's health, and the hormonal changes that occur during this period can have serious implications.
In particular, studies have found that oestrogen is crucial to bone strength, meaning menopause can cause osteoporosis, and similarly, its production in the breast can increase the risk of breast cancer after menopause .
These hormonal changes can also affect the heart, creating a risk of cardiovascular disease, and the nervous system, leading to central nervous system disorders such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease .
If you are concerned about any of these risks or feel you have symptoms, you should speak to your doctor or other healthcare providers immediately.
Can you get pregnant during menopause?
Yes, you can get pregnant while going through menopause! Especially before your periods stop completely, women are still fertile, and can and do get pregnant.
While it's rarer than before perimenopause begins, with one study finding that your chance of conceiving after the age of 50 is less than one in 100, there's still a chance, so don't throw away that birth control just yet .
If you're looking to get pregnant though, IVF and fertility treatments can further support your body to be that one in 100, so try not to worry if you are trying. The best thing to do is book an appointment with your doctor or a fertility specialist to explore your options.
Is there a way to treat menopause?
There's not a catch-all treatment for menopause because menopause isn't the same for every woman, but there are a lot of ways that you can ease menopausal symptoms and feel like your best self. In particular:
- Eating a healthy diet full of vegetables, fruits, grains and lean meat
- Getting regular exercise
- Trying to reduce your stress levels and looking after your mental health and wellbeing
- Identifying tailored treatments for particular symptoms such as heat packs for those joint pains
- Consider Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT).
MHT is the most effective way to treat menopause symptoms and it can also help improve your bone density and reduce the risk of fractures as you age .
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