Most women experience symptoms at menopause. Usually, these are manageable but some women experience troublesome symptoms that are severe or persist for many years.
- Menopausal symptoms include hot flushes and night sweats (called vasomotor symptoms) and vaginal dryness.
- Sleep disturbance from night sweats can also impact on mood and daytime function.
- Around the age of menopause, other symptoms such as depression and changes in sex drive are common but it is not known whether these are directly due to menopause.
Some women find menopause a positive experience and are relieved that they no longer have to deal with menstrual periods and fertility.
Around 80 per cent of women experience hot flushes and night sweats during menopause. These experiences vary between women and are most likely to be troublesome in the year around the final menstrual period.
- Hot flushes are described as a feeling of heat that usually starts in the chest and spreads upwards to the neck and head.
- Hot flushes come and go. They may last from a few seconds to minutes.
- Some women experience sweating at the same time or after hot flushes.
- Some women experience symptoms of racing or pounding heartbeats at the same time as a hot flush.
- Although many women feel self-conscious when they have hot flushes, people watching them cannot generally tell that they are having a hot flush.
- Some women have chills instead of or after a hot flush.
- Night sweats are hot flushes with heavy perspiration that may wake you from sleep.
- Hot flushes and night sweats can continue for many years for some women.
Memory & menopause
Menopause has not been shown to affect memory or thinking. However, some women do report that they feel their memory or concentration has been affected by menopause. Sleep disturbance from night sweats can affect memory and concentration in the day. These symptoms generally improve when the hot flushes have settled down; either naturally or as a result of treatment.
Mood & menopause
Over the menopause transition, around 10 per cent of women report an increase in symptoms such as low mood, feeling depressed, loss of interest in sex, tearfulness and irritability.
Women who have previously experienced clinical depression may be at increased risk of recurrence over the menopause transition. Persistent disturbed sleep may also increase the risk of depression. However, most women do not experience depression at menopause. For those who do, treatment should be the same as at other life stages, this includes psychological treatments (such as cognitive behaviour therapy) and antidepressants.
Sex & menopause
Most women continue to have an enjoyable sex life through the menopause and beyond.
Some women experience vaginal dryness after menopause that can make sexual intercourse or activity uncomfortable. This can be treated with vaginal oestrogen. Others experience changes in their interest and desire or even in sexual responsiveness. These are not necessarily linked to the hormonal changes at menopause.
If you are troubled by changes in your sex life, a sex counselling service may be able to help you - consultations can be with or without your partner.
As well as the symptoms discussed above women may also experience:
- aches and pains
- headaches or migraines
- itchy skin
- sore or tender breasts
- urinary frequency
- weight gain.
You may experience some or none of the symptoms of menopause. If you do have symptoms, they may be mild and manageable or have a significant impact on your quality of life. Severe symptoms can be treated, so speak to your doctor for treatment options and advice.
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