As well as changes to your monthly periods, there are some common and completely normal menopause symptoms that can affect your daily life. Don't forget, every person will have a unique relationship with menopause, and so it is normal for some to experience more severe symptoms than others.
Menopause symptoms have been shown to stay the same, regardless of whether someone experiences natural menopause or has it triggered by clinical treatment (for example, cancer treatment).
Generally speaking, menopause symptoms are at their worst during the 12 months after the final menstrual period. In this article, we'll go through what to expect from menopause symptoms and what to look out for.
What to expect and what to look out for
Most people will experience some or a number of symptoms, and these can have a big impact on your day-to-day life, especially the relationships you have with friends, family members, partners and colleagues. For lots of people, the arrival of perimenopause is signalled by a change in the normal pattern of your period. They might become irregular to begin with, and will eventually stop altogether.
It’s a good idea to pay attention to how you’re feeling and to developing changes so that you recognise shifts in patterns that might indicate perimenopause. It’s harder to get pregnant during perimenopause, but it’s still possible for as long as you’re having periods.
Lots of people who go through menopause have symptoms that are both mental and physical. If you think you might be experiencing these, it’s a good idea to check in with a GP or a nurse or your Fertifa Patient Care Advisor. When menopause or perimenopause begins, do seek out support and information at the earliest possible stage, and equip yourself with the knowledge you need to understand how and why the menopause might impact your life and how you feel.
What kind of mental health symptoms should I expect?
Again, it’s important to remember that menopause really is a different experience for each individual, but it’s possible that you might see the following impact on your mental health:
- Difficulty concentrating or struggling with your memory (‘brain fog’)
- Changes to your mood, such as anxiety, low self-esteem, low moods or mood swings. If you’ve had anxiety or depression in the past, it’s possible that your symptoms may worsen during menopause.
What kind of physical symptoms should I expect?
Lots of people experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Headaches or migraines that are more frequent or more intense than usual
- Aches in muscles and joints
- Weight gain or changing body shape
- Changes in your skin, which might become dry or itchy. You may also find that your hair becomes drier or thinner.
- Hot flushes (these are sudden sensations of hot or cold in your chest, neck and face – sometimes they can make you feel dizzy). These last between roughly one and five minutes, and can be mild or severe. You could experience several hot flushes an hour, or as infrequently as once a week.
- Difficulty sleeping – sometimes this is the consequence of night sweats which interrupt your rest and make you feel tired as a result during the day
- A reduced libido or sex drive – some people find they’re less interested in sex or say they have trouble getting aroused
- Vaginal dryness and discomfort (including pain and itching), especially during sex.
Is weight gain during menopause normal?
In addition to the symptoms listed above, some women may experience weight gain during the menopause. One explanation for this is that muscle mass deceases during the menopause, and therefore the body requires fewer calories.
Menopausal women who do not reduce their calorie intake accordingly (by approximately 200 calories/day according to NHS guidance) may put on body weight as a result. Changing hormone levels can also contribute to weight gain, as they cause the body to store more calories than it burns. Ensuring a balanced, healthy diet and setting aside time for regular exercise during menopause helps maintain a healthy amount of body fat and any associated health risks.
How long will my menopause symptoms last?
Menopause symptoms can vary significantly from person to person. Symptoms can occur for months or years, and you may find that the symptoms themselves change over the course of menopause. For example, you may develop low mood or anxiety to start with, find that it improves over time, and then begin to experience night sweats or hot flushes.
Some symptoms can continue post-menopause (for example, after your periods stop) – these tend to be vaginal dryness and joint pain. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, share how you’re feeling and communicate about your experiences. Although there can still be stigma and embarrassment around menopause, try to be open about your symptoms with your partner, family and friends. This will help them understand what you’re going through and put them in a better position to support you and show that they care. Remember also that you are not alone, and that you will be surrounded by people who have, are or will go through menopause.