Whether male or female, we all go through changes when our hormone levels adjust later in life. For men, it’s a reduction in testosterone (the primary male sex hormone). For women, it’s the ovaries producing less estrogen and progesterone (female sex hormones) and fewer eggs, all of which signal a transition into menopause.
Usually the first sign of menopause is a change in menstrual periods, which typically occurs in a woman’s late 40s or early 50s. It’s different for everyone, but your periods may get longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, and will eventually become less frequent – until your ovaries stop producing eggs and monthly periods end altogether. After a year with no periods, you’re officially in menopause. The entire process can take place in six months, or it may take a few years. In rare cases, it can last up to 10 years.
Signs of menopause
Physical and emotional symptoms can accompany all stages of this important transition, from before it starts (perimenopause) to the time afterward (postmenopause). Some women experience symptoms so slight that menopause will not affect them at all. Others are challenged by these changes and seek treatment to reduce their discomfort. These symptoms may include:
- Irregular or changing periods
- Night sweats or hot flashes
- Aches and pains
- Weight gain
- Changes in eye function
- Change in libido (sexual desire)
- Changes to skin texture
- Loss of bone density
- Difficulty controlling the bladder
- Vaginal dryness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Mood swings
- Memory loss
The most common symptoms are often the most disruptive. Hot flashes can drench the body with sweat, interfering with sleep and being a general nuisance every day. Mood swings are emotionally draining and difficult to control. Weight gain and skin changes, including vaginal dryness, can be emotional issues as well, and memory loss is alarming.
Since some of these symptoms (including hot flashes) also occur in more serious conditions, it is important that you keep your doctor advised of what you are experiencing, particularly if severe symptoms are affecting your quality of life.
Dealing with menopause symptoms
Fortunately, there are treatments, support groups and healthy lifestyle choices that can make the transition safer and easier. For example, avoiding spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine can help reduce the severity of hot flashes. If you are experiencing vaginal dryness, vaginal lubricants like K-Y Jelly can help make sex more comfortable.