Signs You are Heading into Menopause
By Sara Bennett, BSN RN
Many things can happen in a woman’s body because of the changes in hormone patterns that begin during the transition into menopause. Some women are only bothered with a few symptoms, while others are very uncomfortable, and then the remaining have no symptoms at all (National Institute of Aging [NIA], 2015). Let’s get the facts to avoid the gossip.
When a woman’s hormones begin to shift, she may notice changes in the menstrual cycle, hot flashes and night sweats, dry sky, thinning skin, painful sexual intercourse, and difficulty with sleeping and fatigue (NIA, 2015). Additionally, women may experience changes in their sexual desire, mood changes, irritability, anxiety, achy or stiff joints, weight gain in the mid-section, difficulty with memory, and trouble finding the right words (NIA, 2015).
Menstrual Cycle. Many times, the first thing women notice is the change in their periods. They may start coming farther apart or closer together, lasting longer or ending sooner, with a heavier or lighter flow (NIA, 2015).
Hot Flashes. Another early symptom of menopause is hot flashes and night sweats. With this, the face and upper body become hot, your skin gets flushed and red, and you may start sweating a lot. Sometimes, this is followed by chills or shivering. Many times, these episodes are strong enough to wake women up at night (NIA, 2015). Hot flashes may occur multiple times per hour, a few times per day, or just once or twice per week (NIA, 2015). They usually occur for just a few years and then stop, but one in ten women may have them into their sixties or seventies (NIA, 2015). One study reports that African American women are more likely to report hot flashes and night sweats than are Hispanic or white women, while Japanese and Chinese women were least likely to report symptoms (NIA, 2015).
Skin. With age, skin becomes drier. You might also start to lose collagen and fatty tissue, which makes the skin thinner, less elastic and more likely to tear, especially in the areas near your vagina and urinary tract, which makes sexual intercourse painful at times (NIA, 2015).
Sleeping. In the years just before menopause and during post menopause, many women report having problems with sleep and feeling tired (NIA, 2015). Many feel it is the night sweats and hot flashes that lead to the difficulty with sleeping, but many women find it difficult to go back to sleep, once awakened (NIA, 2015). The chronic breaks in the sleep cycle lend itself to feeling tired, which can affect activities throughout the day (NIA, 2015).
Sexuality. With hormonal changes associated with menopause come changes in sexuality. Some women have an increased desire for sexual intercourse, while others have decreased or no desire (NIA, 2015).
Weight Gain. During this change in life, women find it difficult to lose weight and easier to gain weight. This is mostly due to the changes in physical composition (increase in fatty tissue and decrease in muscle mass) (NIA, 2015).
Menopause is a natural stage of life. It is not something that you must take medicine for. If your doctor says you are in the menopausal transition and the symptoms are not bothering you, you don’t have to do anything about them. If your symptoms are making you very uncomfortable, there are things you can do to relieve your discomfort. Your treatment should be chosen based on your own symptoms and health risks. What your sister or friend does may not be the right choice for you. Talk with your doctor about the best approach for you. Whatever approach you choose, if you decide to treat your menopausal symptoms, remember that it is not a permanent decision. At every checkup, talk with your doctor about your symptoms or concerns. Find out if there have been any new research findings or different treatments. If you are using menopausal hormone therapy, maybe you need a higher dose for more relief, or maybe you want to try a lower, perhaps safer dose. Discuss whether you still need to treat your menopausal symptoms.
National Institute of Aging. (2015). Signs of Menopausal Transition. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/menopause-time-change/signs-menopausal-transition