Every woman is unique. Each woman experiences menopause differently. A lucky few will have no symptoms. Others will have many symptoms even before they stop having menstrual periods. It is not always possible to tell whether the symptoms are caused by menopause, the normal aging process, or both.
Symptoms that may begin in the years or months before menopause include:
- Irregular periods. Your period’s cycle will begin to change. Periods can come more often or less frequently. They may be shorter or longer, heavier or lighter. But just missing a few periods does not mean you are entering menopause. Many other health conditions can result in missing periods. Check with your doctor to see if you are pregnant, if would like to stop taking contraceptives, or if there is another medical reason for your missed periods. See your doctor if you start “spotting” after not having your period for one full year. Spotting could be caused by cancer or another health condition.
- Hot flashes or flushes.This symptom is a sudden feeling of heat in your upper body or all of your body. Your face and neck may become red and your chest, back, and arms may become blotchy. After the episode you may sweat a lot or become extremely cold and shiver.
- Night sweats.Night sweats are hot flashes that happen while you sleep and might wake you up.
- Trouble sleeping and night sweats. You may find that it will become harder to fall asleep and/or stay asleep all through the night.
- Vaginal and urinary problems. These problems can begin or get worse around menopause. Estrogen helps protect the strength of your vagina, bladder and urethra (the tube that empties your urine). Lower estrogen levels may make the walls of your vagina drier and thinner. This could cause itching or be uncomfortable. Sex could be uncomfortable or even painful. Vaginal infections or urinary tract infections may increase. Some women develop urinary urge incontinence (problems holding the urine long enough to get to the bathroom) or urinary stress incontinence (urine leaking out when you sneeze, cough or laugh).
- Changing feelings about sex. Some women find that they feel less aroused during menopause and do not feel like having sex. Others feel more comfortable with their sexuality. Some women lose interest in sex because it may become more physically uncomfortable or even painful.
- Mood changes. You may have mood swings, feel irritated, or have crying spells. If you had mood swings before your monthly periods or postpartum depression after giving birth, you may become more moody around the time you go through menopause. Changes in mood can be caused by stress or feeling tired. Mood swings and depression are not the same thing.
- Osteoporosis. This condition occurs when bones get thin and weak. It can lead to loss of height and broken bones. If you have a family history of osteoporosis and fractures, you might be at higher risk yourself.
- Other changes. You might forget things or have a hard time focusing on everyday things. You might gain weight, lose muscle, and gain fat. Your joints and muscles may feel stiff and achy. Experts do not know if some of these changes are a result of the lower estrogen levels in menopause or are a result of growing older.