Symptoms of menopause


Symptoms of menopause generally include hot flushes, vaginal changes and mood swings. There are other physical and emotional symptoms of menopause, but no two women 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 affect your menopausal symptoms.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

menopause symptoms by severityNot all women experience the same menopausal symptoms:

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

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)
  • less interest in sex
  • lowered mood
  • mood swings

crawling or itchy skin

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

Menopausal symptoms & culture

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

It is unclear if these differences are physiological differences in symptoms, or the result of women not feeling comfortable or confident to talk about menopausal symptoms because of cultural taboos. However, there clearly are vast differences in how women from different cultures view menopause. For example, African and Aboriginal women might view menopause more positively as the end of their reproductive life, but the beginning of their role as cultural leaders while, in contrast, women from some Western cultures might view menopause more negatively, as the end of their reproductive years as well as their sexual desirability, leaving them with a sense of grief and loss.

Menopause & mood

Women can feel depressed and/or experience changes in their mood around perimenopause (the months/years before menopause) when their hormone levels fluctuate. Menopause does not cause depression, but women who have had depression before menopause, or who have a history of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), may be more sensitive to the hormonal changes that menopause brings.

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 spread 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. Some can have hot flushes that are mild and quick, while others can have one a day or more than 20 a day. 

Bladder, vaginal & vulval problems

Low oestrogen causes changes to the vulval, vaginal and bladder tissues. This can result in the following symptoms:

  • genital: dryness, burning and irritation
  • sexual: lack of lubrication, discomfort or pain, impaired function, or loss of elasticity
  • urinary: urgency, pain (dysuria) and recurrent urinary tract infections.

A woman may present with some or all of the signs and symptoms.

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

For more information on how to manage menopausal symptoms go to Management options.

References

  1. Reed SD, Lampe JW, Qu C, Gundersen G, Fuller S, Copeland WK et al. Self-reported menopausal symptoms in a racially diverse population and soy food consumption. Maturitas. 2013;75(2):152–8.

  2. Portman D, Gass ML and the Vulvovaginal Atrophy Terminology Consensus Conference Panel. Genitourinary syndrome of menopause: new terminology for vulvovaginal atrophy from the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health and the North American Menopause Society. Climacteric. 2014;17:557–63.

Last updated 04 September 2018 — Last reviewed 17 December 2017

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 December 2017.

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