Menopause can be a confusing time in a woman's life. Estrogen, a hormone many bodily functions depend on, is no longer produced in the amount it once was, resulting in physical and emotional changes. There are many symptoms associated with depleted estrogen levels including mood swings, hot flashes, weight gain, depression, and diminished sex drive. Depending on the woman, she may experience all of these symptoms or none. They may be intense or mild. Thankfully, symptoms do not usually last the rest of a woman's life.
When Do Symptoms Start?
A woman is considered to have reached menopause when she has been period-free for a solid year. The symptoms usually associated with menopause are actually a byproduct of the perimenopausal stage, or the years leading up to menopause - this is when estrogen levels begin to diminish and when most symptoms arise. Perimenopause can start as young as a woman's early 30s, or as late as 50. The average age for reaching menopause is 51.
What Are the Symptoms of Menopause?
There are 34 symptoms of menopause, though some are more common than others. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Hot flashes. These occur when an imbalance in hormones makes your body think it's cold when it's not, causing it to warm itself up.
- Night sweats. When you get a hot flash at night, your body tries to cool itself down by sweating.
- Weight gain. Caused by a slower metabolism and a redistribution of fat storage in the body, this is one of the most visible signs of menopause.
- Mood swings. Much like when you're having your period, hormones can get out of alignment and cause changes in mood.
- Depression. This can often be caused by life stress, the impact of dealing with other menopause symptoms, as well as hormonal imbalance.
- Vaginal dryness. A loss of lubrication in the vagina that can make sex painful.
- Irregular periods. The definitive sign that menopause has come.
- Fatigue. Can be exacerbated by night sweats, causing sleeping problems.
When Do Symptoms Subside?
By the time a woman reaches menopause, her body has become accustomed to the new levels of estrogen and symptoms begin to decrease in severity and frequency. After reaching menopause, she enters postmenopause. By the time a woman is postmenopausal many of her symptoms will have stopped. However, this depends on the individual, as some women have reported experiencing hot flashes into their 70s.
There are many menopause symptoms that can last years if left untreated. Though generally stopping in postmenopause, symptoms can be unbearable for some women, and treatment options are available. Hormonal and natural medicines, lifestyle changes such as acupuncture and yoga, are but few of the many available options - and any form of treatment will work best if paired with a healthy lifestyle. It is always recommended to talk to your doctor about which treatment is best for you.