Signs Of The Menopause

The menopause can trigger all kinds of physical, mental and emotional symptoms; commonly, the first sign you will notice is related to the regularity of your periods.

Irregular periods

As the levels of oestrogen in the body fall, the frequency of periods usually decreases and you may also find that your periods become irregular; in some cases, periods can also become more frequent, but last for a shorter period of time. The period leading up to the menopause is known as perimenopause; during this stage, you may experience very light or heavy periods, which last anywhere from a couple of days to over a week. The frequency may also become abnormal; some women find that they don't have periods for months, while others may have one followed by another just a couple of weeks later. The consistency of blood may also alter when you are going through perimenopause and menopause; it is common for bleeding to be heavier and for there to be visible clots in the blood.

At this stage, it is normal to have irregular periods because of the changing levels of oestrogen; however, if you are worried or the irregularity of your periods is affecting your day to day life, don't hesitate to see your GP. It is advisable to seek medical help if you have very heavy bleeding (known as menorrhagia), you have severe abdominal cramps, your periods last for longer than 7-10 days or you are experiencing periods very close together.

An American study, which analysed data from more than 3,200 women, found that heavy bleeding, longer periods and spotting (light bleeding between periods) were common in the run-up to the menopause.

Hot flushes

Hot flushes are one of the most common signs of the menopause; they usually occur in the chest, neck and face before radiating to other parts of the body. The exact cause of hot flushes remains unknown, but experts believe that they may be linked to the way your blood circulates, which may change when you are going through the menopause. When you have a hot flush, it is very common for your body to feel very hot and for your skin to become red, flushed and patchy; this is caused by the blood vessels under your skin dilating in a bid to cool you down. You may also sweat; sweating is the body's natural response to heat. When you have hot flushes during the night, this is known as night sweats.

In most cases, hot flushes are short-lived; however, the duration for which you experience this symptom varies. Some women only have hot flushes for a short period of time, while others will have them for several years. It is most common to experience hot flushes in the first 12 months after you stop having monthly periods.

Sometimes, hot flushes can be accompanied by a racing heartbeat and palpitations. Hot flushes are normal when you are going through perimenopause and menopause; however, if you are worried or you have severe hot flushes and they are taking their toll on your work or social life, see your GP.

It is possible for hot flushes to be triggered and some women find that they tend to experience more regular or severe hot flushes when they are stressed or run down or they eat or drink certain foods, including caffeinated drinks, spicy food. It's also a good idea to try and wear light, loose clothing and to avoid hot and enclosed places.

If you do have a hot flush, try to stay calm and breathe deeply. Regular exercise and keeping your bedroom cool at night can also help to reduce symptoms and prevent night sweats.

Night sweats

Night sweats are very common during menopause; they are hot flushes, which occur during the night. Night sweats are not painful, but they can make it difficult to get to and stay asleep and disturbed sleep patterns can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. In the short-term, a disturbed night can make you feel tired and irritable the next day and you may find that you lack energy and motivation; in the long-term, a lack of sleep can increase the risk of anxiety, stress and depression, affect your mood and make you more susceptible to illnesses and infections.

Night sweats can also make you feel self-conscious, especially if you share your bed with your partner or you are planning a weekend away or staying over at somebody else's house.

If you experience night sweats, it's a good idea to keep your bedroom cool and sleep with a fan or a window open; wear loose-fitting night clothes made from light, natural materials and consider sleeping without your covers on.

Vaginal symptoms and loss of interest in sex

Research cited by the NHS suggests that around one third of women experience vaginal atrophy as a result of menopause; this is a group of symptoms, which includes vaginal dryness, itchiness and general discomfort. Many women also find that sex becomes painful and uncomfortable as a result of thee symptoms. Symptoms tend to develop after the final period and in most cases, they disappear within a year; however, this varies and some women experience symptoms for a protracted period.

If you have vaginal symptoms, they are not likely to get better without treatment and it is advisable to seek advice from your GP.

If you find sex painful, it's understandable to lose interest in sex and this is a common occurrence during and after menopause. The decreased level of oestrogen, the female sex hormone, can also reduce libido. If you don't feel like having sex with your partner, try to be open and honest with them and explain that you find it painful and reassure them that it is nothing personal. If you are eager to get your sex life back on track, it may be worth trying new positions, which you find less painful, using lubricant and to practice distraction techniques to help you deal with anxiety.

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