Is it menopause or is it just hot in here? Is it menopause or am I just not in the mood for sex? Is it menopause or …
When your body is going through menopause—the time in a woman's life when the ovaries stop producing eggs (ovulating) and menstrual periods end—the signs can often be, er, confusing. Like, why am I still experiencing hot flashes five years after menopause?!
Here’s what’s going on: Throughout a woman’s life, the ovaries secrete a number of different hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. “Cyclic production of estrogen and progesterone is required for ovulation and that’s how women have regular periods,” says Sonal Chaudhry, MD, an endocrinologist at NYU Langone Health.
During perimenopause, or the transition into menopause, a woman will experience many physiological changes that can affect her quality of life. “As women get older, the production of estrogen and progesterone changes,” says Dr. Chaudhry. “There are unpredictable hormone fluctuations that occur during perimenopause, and you’re having symptoms of estrogen withdrawal.”
What Happens to the Body During Menopause
Perimenopause begins on average four years before the final menstrual period (FMP). When a woman reaches menopause, her periods have completely stopped.
“The technical definition of menopause is when she’s had no periods for 12 consecutive months,” says Dr. Chaudhry. “And postmenopause is all the time after menopause.”
Here are the most common symptoms that women experience during menopause.
1. Hot flashes
Hot flashes are the most common menopause symptom—they affect 80 percent of menopausal women—and they often occur at night. “The hot flash is this intense sensation of heat that starts in the upper part of your body and quickly spreads to the rest of your body,” sasy Dr. Chaudhry.
The sensation of heat can last a few minutes, along with sweating and sometimes followed by chills and shivering, and a feeling of anxiety. Hot flashes usually occur several times per day, although the range may be from only one or two each day to as many as one per hour during the day and night.
2. Difficulty losing weight
Menopausal hormone fluctuations may also make it harder for you to lose or maintain your weight. “Women are often surprised that it becomes much harder to maintain their weight despite their usual diet and activity levels, says Dr. Chaudhry. (Check out these key habits for maintaining weight loss at any age.)
3. Hair and skin changes
As you go through menopause, you may notice your appearance starts to change. “Your hair may be thinner, you may develop facial hair that you haven’t had before or your skin may be drier. You may also experience more wrinkling,” says Dr. Chaudhry.
4. Dip in sex drive
“Lower levels of testosterone are associated with lower libido or sexual desire,” says Dr. Chaudhry. What’s more, as women become perimenopausal and menopausal, there’s a decrease in estrogen and the vagina becomes drier and less flexible, which may make sex more difficult and painful. Here are more reasons your sex drive is dwindling.
5. Vaginal dryness and pain
The lining of the vagina and urethra are estrogen-dependent tissues, and estrogen deficiency that comes with menopause leads to thinning of the vaginal lining, dryness, and inflammation. This can cause vaginal burning, itching, and pain during sexual activity, says Dr. Chaudhry.
6. Increased urination
Going through menopause may also increase your need to pee. “Urinary symptoms could be increased frequency of urination, urgency, increased risk of urinary tract infections as well,” says Dr. Chaudhry. Here are the textbook signs of a UTI.
7. Sleep issues
Difficulty sleeping during menopause is very common, and tends to increase later in the menopause transition. According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 60 percent of postmenopausal women report insomnia symptoms.
One of the difficult parts of hot flashes being more common at night is that they can affect a woman’s sleep—significantly. However, women experience sleep disturbances even in the absence of hot flashes. Check out these doctor-approved ways to sleep better tonight.
If you’re bothered by menopause symptoms, there are many lifestyle changes and remedies that can help you cope, like keeping a fan nearby for hot flashes, or using a vaginal lubricant to help make sex less uncomfortable.
There are also medications that can help with menopausal symptoms, like hormone therapy or over-the-counter medications. Many women do not need medical treatment to control menopause symptoms, but if the symptoms are affecting your quality of life, you should talk to your doctor about your options.
“It takes some time for your body to adjust to these new levels of hormones, most women do adjust and you will feel better overtime,” says Chaudhry.