Every woman experiences menopause differently. Even the age at which menopause begins is unique to each woman. Some of our patients reach menopause in their 30's or 40's, and some not until their 60's. However, medical research has shown that menopause most often occurs between the ages of 45 to 55.
Your signs and symptoms are also likely to be very individual. Some of our patients go through menopause with few signs and symptoms. Other patients experience a number of physical and emotional changes, including:
- Irregular menstruation. Your cycle may stop suddenly, or gradually get lighter or heavier and then stop. The unpredictability of your periods may be your first clue that menopause is approaching.
- Decreased fertility. When ovulation begins to fluctuate, you're less likely to become pregnant. Until you haven't had a period for a year, however, pregnancy is still possible.
- Vaginal changes. As your estrogen level declines, the tissues lining your vagina and urethra become drier, thinner and less elastic. With decreased lubrication you may experience burning or itching, along with increased risk of infections of your urinary tract or vagina. These changes may make sexual intercourse uncomfortable or even painful.
- Hot flashes. As your estrogen level drops, your blood vessels may expand rapidly, causing your skin temperature to rise. This can lead to a feeling of warmth that moves upward from your chest to your shoulders, neck and head. You may sweat, and as the sweat evaporates from your skin, you may feel chilled, weak and slightly faint. Most hot flashes last from 30 seconds to several minutes, although they can last much longer. The frequency, as well as the duration, of hot flashes varies from person to person. They may be part of your life for a year or more, or you may never experience them.
- Sleep disturbances and night sweats. Night sweats are often a consequence of hot flashes. You may awaken from a sound sleep with soaking night sweats followed by chills. You may have difficulty falling back to sleep or achieving a deep, restful sleep. Lack of sleep may affect your mood and overall health.
- Changes in appearance. After menopause, the fat that was once concentrated in your hips and thighs may settle above your waist and in your abdomen. You may notice a loss of fullness in your breasts, thinning hair, and wrinkles in your skin. Although your estrogen level drops, your body continues to produce small amounts of the male hormone testosterone. As a result, you may develop coarse hair on your chin, upper lip, chest and abdomen.
- Emotional changes. As you go through menopause, you may experience mood swings, be more irritable, or be more prone to emotional upsets.