Despite the fact that 1.3 million women enter menopause every year, it’s only recently that the world has started paying attention to menopause symptoms. It’s long overdue, considering the symptoms of menopause go well beyond the oft-parodied hot flash.
“It has been well established that menopause can affect a woman from head to toe,” says Somi Javaid, MD, a fellow of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and founder and chief medical officer of HerMD. Menopause impacts your sex life, your mental health, even your wardrobe. It’s time to make menopause symptoms as top of mind and well-acknowledged as those experienced during puberty.
As significant as these lifestyle changes are to women, talking about menopause is important from more than just a cultural perspective. “It’s important to talk about the impact that a decline of estrogen has on the body, in general,” says ob-gyn Leah Millheiser, MD, a North American Menopause Society–certified menopause practitioner and the chief medical officer of Evernow menopause treatment center. “This includes a loss of bone mass, which can lead to osteoporosis and potentially life-threatening bone fractures down the road; cardiovascular disease; type 2 diabetes; weight, skin, and hair changes; cognitive changes; and sexual function changes (think a decreased sex drive, vaginal dryness, and pain during sex).” Says Dr. Millheiser, “Knowledge is key here.” As is a good relationship with your doctor, so that together you can decide on the best menopause treatment for you.
So what can you expect? Here's everything you need to know about menopause symptoms.
But first, what is menopause?
Menopause is defined as the cessation of ovarian function and is officially diagnosed when you’ve gone a full year without a menstrual period. However, you can be experiencing pre-menopause symptoms, also known as perimenopause, for years before that. “From puberty to menopause, your period is the result of a follicle, or egg, being released at ovulation and failing to be fertilized,” says Lizellen La Folette, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and medical advisor for Stripes. “The cycle is controlled by estrogen and progesterone, our reproductive hormones. During menopause, the ovaries become more and more resistant to ovulating because there are fewer and fewer follicles to release.”
This drop-off isn’t linear, which is why you may experience years of irregular periods and early menopause symptoms before officially entering menopause. (For most women, the menopausal transition starts around age 45—the average age of menopause diagnosis is 51.) The result is that “the brain-ovary connection goes from being a well-oiled machine that produces regular cycles to a state of stress and dysfunction,” Dr. La Folette says.
What are common menopause symptoms?
Big changes are to be expected during this time, and while they may be totally natural, menopause symptoms can feel pretty disorienting. Much like the symptoms you might experience during your period or pregnancy, the symptoms of menopause are systemic, meaning they’ll cause changes in expected places (like your vagina) and in some not so expected places (like your skin).