The article is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.
The symptoms of menopause can vary so widely that it may be hard to detect when it starts, or when it’s about to start. One thing’s for sure, menopause can be a major change in a woman’s life. It often affects moods, physical health, relationships, and work. Some women may present quite prominent symptoms, while others may not feel much of the effects of menopause at all.
It’s important to note that menopause itself can start months or even years after your period begins to taper off, and eventually stop. This phase is called perimenopause, which as mentioned, can last a long time. While perimenopause can be identified by these irregular, lighter periods, how do you know when menopause is actually starting? Let’s discuss the most common symptoms of menopause and signs that indicate you’ve begun menopause.
When Does Menopause Start?
Women on average begin the perimenopausal stage between 45-55, but this can vary slightly. The official start of menopause itself is marked once you have gone 12 complete months without getting your period. But the menopausal transition comes with a slew of symptoms to look out for that can help you identify it a bit quicker.
Most Common Symptoms of Menopause
Below are some of the most common symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. Are you experiencing any of these symptoms? Be sure to consult your PCP or gynecologist if you suspect you’re beginning menopause.
Changes in your period
Oftentimes, this is the first symptom you might notice. Are your periods becoming irregular? Are they lasting longer or shorter? Do you miss a couple months between periods? These are all signs you are beginning the menopause transition.
Hot flashes are the result of hormonal changes, such as levels of estrogen in the body. Hot flashes create sudden feelings of heat in your upper body that may cause heavy sweating or chills, a flushed face, or night sweats. These hot flashes may only last a handful of seconds, or can go on for a few minutes.
Menopause may cause you to start experiencing incontinence, or a lack of bladder control. You may notice that you feel sudden urges to urinate, or are unable to fully hold it in when sneezing, coughing, or exercising. You can discuss options for improving incontinence with your doctor.
Changes to your appearance
As menopause sets in, you may notice that your breasts are loosing their fullness or firmness. They may also feel more tender or even sore. You may also lose some muscle and gain some fat. Your waist may grow larger, and your skin may look thinner. Many women experience achy joints and other pains as they transition to menopause.
Changes to vaginal health
Many women experience changes to their vaginal health and sexual intercourse during menopause. Vaginas may become drier, and sex may become more uncomfortable or less enjoyable. If you want to make sex more comfortable and enjoyable for yourself during these changes, consult with your doctor about what can be done.
Changes to your mood may be one of the most challenging symptoms of menopause. Because of the hormonal changes taking place in the body, you may find that you feel more irritable. Depression may also result from these hormonal changes, particularly if you have a history of depression. In addition, some women going through menopause experience more anxiety. You can develop healthy habits for mental health, and there are ways to treat these mood swings, irritability, or depression. Talk to your PCP or consult with a mental health professional.
You may notice that your hair is beginning to fall out in larger clumps in the shower, or thinning at the crown of your head. This is a less common symptom than some of the others, and it may or may not necessarily be directly caused by menopause. If you notice an increase in hair loss, consult a dermatologist about what you’re experiencing.
Itchy skin, brittle nails, or body odor
Depleted estrogen levels, which takes place during menopause, can cause your nails to become more brittle and damage or break off more easily. In addition, lower estrogen levels can affect the collagen in your skin, creating an itchy or burning sensation. And finally, the changes in hormones that cause hot flashes and increased sweating can result in more body odor than is normal for you.
If you suspect menopause, be sure to discuss symptoms with your doctor. Your doctor may recommend nutritional supplements or hormone therapy.