Have I reached the menopause? Menopause signs and symptoms to look out for

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  • If you've reached an age where you're starting to think, and maybe even worry, about starting the menopause, you might be confused about what symptoms to expect.

    You may even be noticing changes and you’re not sure if it’s the menopause or not, as symptoms of menopause can differ from person to person.

    Hot flushes and mood swings are usually the first sign of the menopause for a lot of women. You will normally start going through it between the ages of 45 and 55, although it can start later, or even earlier, than that.

    If you’re concerned and have questions about the menopause, the best thing to do is to visit your GP. They will able to diagnose the issues that you’re having and tell you whether the menopause has begun.

    What are the symptoms of menopause to look out for?

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    Hot flushes

    About three in four women get hot flushes during the menopause. A hot flush lasts a few minutes and can cause your face, neck, and chest to go hot and red, as well as make you sweat. Some women can feel faint or sick during a hot flush. The amount you get a day can vary. They tend to start just before the menopause, and normally last for about two to three years.

    Night sweats

    Although you might get cold sweats and hot flushes during the day you can also get night sweats. They can wake you up and make you feel uncomfortable and sometimes you might have to change your bedding and night clothes if they’re really bad.

    Mood swings

    All of us can get a bit emotional, or snap at people uncontrollably, when we’re due on our periods and this is no different when you’re starting the menopause. It can just sometimes be on a much bigger scale as your hormones are changing a lot more.

    Trouble sleeping or feeling tired all the time

    The hormone changes you’ll experience during the menopause can make you feel very sleepy during the day and then stop you from getting to sleep at night. And then, to add insult to injury, night sweats can wake you up when you finally nod off! Our guide to getting better sleep can help.

    Irregular periods

    Starting the menopause can mess up your cycle and your periods can change quite a lot from how long they last to how heavy they are. Some women who have irregular periods all through their adult life find that starting the menopause can actually make them a bit more predictable. It’s worth keeping a diary and writing down if there are any noticeable differences.

    Loss of sex drive

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    A lot of women can suffer from a loss of sex drive when they’re starting or going through the menopause. As when you start puberty you’re sex drive increases, as you lose these hormones during the menopause it decreases or disappears. It is completely normal.

    Your vagina may shrink a little and become dry too, meaning it might not expand as easily during sex. You may then have some pain when you have sex and this can put you off in the future.

    Weight gain

    This is also known as the ‘disappearing waistline’ symptom. During the menopause some women put on weight around their stomach, bum and thighs. Again, it’s completely normal and nothing to worry about.

    READ MORE: The menopause diet: What to eat during the menopause

    Depression

    The menopause can make you depressed and, in extreme cases, have suicidal thoughts. The depression differs from other types though because it’s more specific – being unable to cope with things and feeling you’re losing yourself and your femininity.

    READ MORE: Your menopause questions answered

    Incontinence

    When you start the menopause you might find that when you cough, sneeze or laugh, you wee yourself a little bit. This is because when you start the menopause you can lose muscle tone all over your body. This can also explain a certain amount of weight gain. Doing yoga, pilates or even yogalates can help tone up your pelvic muscles.

    How do you know if your premenopausal?

    It’s difficult to tell whether you’re premenopausal or not, as it’s unlikely you’ll have any symptoms. Most women still have periods, even if they’re irregular, and while there will be hormonal changes going on in your body, you’re unlikely to notice any changes.

    Jana Abelovska, Medical Advisor at Click Pharmacy says, “Some common signs to look out for which mean you may be premenopausal are irregular periods, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, disturbances with sleep, and mood swings, these all occur due to the changing levels of estrogen in your body. The menopause effects all women differently however and you may only experience one or a few symptoms and mildly or all of them and quiet severely.”

    Whats the earliest age for menopause?

    symptoms of menopause

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    According to the NHS, early menopause happens when a woman’s periods stop before the age of 45. While this happens naturally for some women, it can also be the side effects of medical treatments such as cancer therapies and surgeries.

    As Jana says, “For most women the menopause starts between the ages of 45 and 55 however early menopause can occur for some women, and happens when a woman’s period stops before the age of 45. It usually happens naturally or sometimes can be a side effect of treatments. Some women may experience premature menopause before the age of 40.”

    Is spotting one of the menopause symptoms?

    When entering perimenopause, changes in your hormone levels will affect ovulation and therefore also your periods.

    “Spotting isn’t a common sign of menopause and actually spotting during menopause or leading up to it is something that should not be ignored.” Jana warns, “If you are having abnormal bleeding leading up to or during menopause I would advise speaking to your GP. However, spotting can be a little more common during perimenopause due to hormone levels changing and interfering with ovulation which can lead to a late period and irregular bleeding and spotting.

    “If you are worried about spotting however it’s always good to speak to your GP.”

    Can menopause start in your 20s?

    According to the NHS, menopause is often diagnosed in those who haven’t had a period in more than one year.

    Often menopause symptoms happen to those in their early 20s if their ovaries stop working and stop producing normal levels of hormones such as oestrogen. This can happen for a variety of reasons including chromosome abnormalities, autoimmune diseases and other infections such as malaria and mumps. It can also be genetic.

    Although it does happen, going through menopause in your 20s is rare. Jana agrees, “Yes, this can happen but it is quite uncommon. Premature menopause means a woman’s ovaries stop working before she has reached the age of 40, some women can be affected from their teens and early 20s’s. However this is quite rare.”

    What are the stages of Perimenopause?

    Knowing the difference between Peri, post, and just plain menopause is hard enough without having to consider the individual stages of each one.

    “The first signs and stages of perimenopause are experiencing breast tenderness, hot flashes, cramps, low sex drive, fatigue, irregular periods, vaginal dryness and possible discomfort during sex, a weakened pelvic floor and weeing when you cough or sneeze may occur.” Jana explains, “During the final stage of perimenopause your body produces less estrogen, however there is still a chance of becoming pregnant. This stage of the menopause can last for a small amount of time such as a few months, or in some cases a long time such as four or five years.”