Menopause symptoms

Last updated 30 May 2016 — Last reviewed 02 March 2014

Symptoms of menopause generally include hot flushes, vaginal changes and mood swings. There are other physical and emotional symptoms of menopause but no one woman will experience menopause in the same way. Culture, general level of health and wellbeing, previous experience of mood problems, lifestyle and whether you have had a natural, surgical or chemotherapy induced menopause will all impact on menopausal symptoms.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

menopause symptoms by severityNot all women have menopause symptoms:

  • 20% will have no symptoms
  • 60% experience mild to moderate symptoms
  • 20% of women have symptoms so severe that they significantly interfere with daily life

If you have menopause as a result of surgery or menopause as a result of chemotherapy treatment you can find your symptoms are more severe. Seek help from your doctor if you are concerned about your physical or emotional symptoms.

As hormones change with the approach of menopause you may begin to experience some of the following physical and emotional symptoms:

Physical symptoms Emotional symptoms
  • Aches and pains
  • Bloating
  • Crawling or itchy skin
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Hot flushes
  • Increasing tiredness
  • Night sweats
  • Sore breasts
  • Urinary problems
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Wakefulness
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling irritable
  • Feeling you are not able to cope as well as you used to
  • Forgetfulness
  • Increasing PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
  • Lack of concentration
  • Less interest in sex
  • Lowered mood
  • Mood swings

crawling or itchy skin

Menopause symptoms & culture

There is research to suggest that women from different cultures may experience menopausal symptoms differently. For example hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and aches and pains are the most common menopause symptoms reported by women from western cultures whereas studies show that women from Asian cultures report fewer hot flushes and more aches and pains, insomnia and mood changes [1].

It is unclear though if these differences are physiological differences in symptoms or the result of women feeling uncomfortable and not confident to talk about menopause symptoms because of cultural taboos that may exist. However, what is clear is that there are vast differences in how women from different cultures view menopause. For example, African and Aboriginal women may view menopause more positively as the end of the reproductive life but the beginning of their role as cultural leaders. Women from some western cultures may see menopause as the end of their reproductive years as well as their sexual desirability, leaving them with a sense of grief and loss and therefore they may view it more negatively.

Menopause & mood

Women can feel depressed and/or changes in their mood around perimenopause (the months/years before menopause) when their hormone levels vary. While menopause does not cause depression, women who have had depression before menopause or who have a history of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) may be more sensitive to the menopausal changes taking place.

Hot flushes & night sweats

The causes of hot flushes are complex and not completely understood. It seems lower oestrogen levels affect parts of the brain that provide the thermostat for body temperature. Many studies show stress and anxiety can influence the frequency and intensity of hot flushes and sometimes certain foods or alcohol can also have an impact.

Hot flushes generally start in the chest area and spread to the upper chest then the neck and to the face but can be over the whole body. They have been described as a burning, overheating sensation with reddening of the skin and different degrees of sweating.

Each woman experiences hot flushes differently. You can have hot flushes that are mild and quick, and you can have one a day or more than 20 a day. 

Vaginal problems

Reduced oestrogen levels also causes changes to the vagina and bladder. This can result in the following symptoms:

  • Vaginal dryness due to loss of elasticity and lubrication
  • Vaginal discomfort
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • A dry and painful vulval area
  • Vaginal and urinary tract infections

Lower oestrogen levels can also influence the perception of touch making you extra sensitive to touch or even sometimes numb to touch. 

For more information on how to manage menopause symptoms go to management options.

References

  1. Reed SD, Lampe JW et al. Self reported menopausal symptoms in a racially diverse population and soy food consumption. Maturitas. 2013; Jun 75(2):152-8

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at March 2014.

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