There are simply some things in life you can’t escape and for women menopause is one of them. It’s important to understand that this is a natural process and that, despite the drawbacks and uncomfortable symptoms, it’s an inevitable part of life that pretty much all women go through.
Most women will experience menopausal symptoms between the ages of 45 and 58. The average age for onset of menopause is 52 but you won’t feel all the effects at once. Menopause isn’t something that just happens overnight and the effects are often felt over a relatively long period of time. In fact, menopause is defined as having no menstrual period for one year and its correlating symptoms can last years. (1)
Here are 11 effects menopause can have on the body:
One of the changes that occurs during menopause is having lighter, heavier, or irregular periods. Many women can even experience their periods stopping completely without any prior changes, but more often they will notice a difference in their period pattern before their menstrual cycle stops altogether.
A change in your period is what’s considered a symptom of perimenopause and there are many ways these changes can manifest. You can experience spotting between periods which is usually a result of your body’s changing hormones and the buildup of your uterine lining or endometrium. Heavier bleeding due to your estrogen levels being higher than your progesterone levels, darker blood, shorter cycles when your estrogen levels are low, and longer cycles. (2)
Many women also experience bladder changes during menopause, this symptom can mean that you feel you have to urinate more often, that it’s too hard to hold in or that your bladder feels full and uncomfortable. Some also lose bladder strength and can experience bladder leakage when sneezing or laughing. To help with this, women often use incontinence underwear.
Prior to menopause you likely have a steady supply of estrogen that helps to preserve the flexibility and strength of your bladder and supportive pelvic tissues. When these levels drop during perimenopause and menopause your tissues can weaken. (3)
This is a symptom that women often complain about more than others, due to the random nature of their occurrences and how uncomfortable they can be. Hot flashes and even night sweats can range from mild to very severe and those who do experience the worst of it often have trouble sleeping too. (4)
The increased heat and sweating can disturb sleeping patterns and you might even need to wake up and change the sheets when the sweating gets to be too much. Practically all women do experience some form of hot flashes and sweats, but not all women experience these symptoms at a severe level.
Menopause can cause discomfort for women during sex, which is caused by vaginal dryness. With all the hormonal changes within the body it’s very normal for the lining of the vagina to provide less moisture which can be uncomfortable, especially during intercourse.
There are a few different remedies you can turn to if you’re experiencing this symptom including:
- Vaginal moisturizers can be applied a few times a week to keep the vaginal tissues healthy and moisturized.
- Vaginal lubricants should be applied at the time of sexual activity to help with pain and discomfort during intercourse.
- To reinvigorate vaginal tissue, your doctor may recommend a cream, ring, or tablet that administers a low dose of estrogen. You might already be using hormone replacement therapy, but your doctor could still recommend this treatment if your symptoms don’t abate. For people who’ve previously had breast cancer, it’s especially important to consult your health care provider about the risks that hormone therapy entails.
- Ospemifene (Osphena) is a specific form of medication referred to as a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM). Taken orally, this is used to treat painful intercourse associated with vaginal dryness. This medication isn’t recommended for women who are at a higher risk for breast cancer or who have had breast cancer.
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) comes in the form of a nightly vaginal suppository. This is a treatment that can help ease the pain during intercourse for menopausal women.
Regular vaginal stimulation or sexual activity can also help to maintain healthy and strong vaginal tissues in women after menopause. (5)
Joint pains and tiredness
Women can also experience stiff, painful, and tired joints during this time. Years of use can take their toll all at once when menopause kicks in. Pain and stiffness are felt most keenly just after waking up because lying down for many hours while sleeping reduces fluid levels. This can make moving joints more painful and stiff first thing in the morning.
Joint pain may be mild or severe and impact your mobility to varying degrees. You can use creams and ointments to help with the pain you might feel. Or you can speak with your doctor if it’s more severe and is impacting your mobility daily.
Another significant change that can happen during this time is weight gain. When your periods finally stop and you’re no longer able to have children, this is because your body is no longer releasing the same levels of estrogen and progesterone needed for reproduction and fertility.
The weight gain won’t happen overnight, it’s more gradual. Other factors such as bad lifestyle habits can also contribute to increased weight gain too. Significant weight gain during menopause can be more serious than no longer fitting into your favorite jeans. It can also consequences for your health including:
- Breast cancer
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease.
What’s interesting about this change is that it can happen differently depending on what you’re predisposed to. What triggers pain in one person can be someone else’s cure. Take the example of caffeine, which can have different effects depending on the person. The same can happen with your hormones.
Some women who go through having hormonal headaches find some relief during menopause. Others experience an increase in headaches once they reach this time in their lives.
Women can experience sore breasts for a number of different reasons and health conditions. During years on your period, sore breasts can be a sign of pregnancy or indicate that your period is about to begin. This type of pain is called “mastalgia,” which means breast pain. This can be cyclical and corresponding with your period or have no relation to your period at all.
If you’re in perimenopause or nearing menopause you might also experience sore and tender breasts. As this is a transitional time when your period slows, is irregular, and finally stops, it’s quite common for you to experience soreness in your breasts.
While women don’t experience this as drastically as men can later in life, menopause can bring about hair loss and thinning. This thinning can occur on the top, sides or front of the head and some women even report hair falling out in chunks. This is yet another result of your body’s hormonal imbalance, specifically the lower levels of both estrogen and progesterone. A drop in these two hormones can cause hair to grow more slowly and become much thinner.
The opposite problem can occur as well. Some women have more hair grow in unwanted places such as your face, arms, back, or chest. The decrease in estrogen and progesterone can actually lead to an increase in androgens, a group of male hormones. This can lead to hair loss on the head, but in many cases these hormones cause more hair to grow in unwanted areas such as the face.
Some women can develop darker or thicker facial hair or peach fuzz and even small sprouts of hair on the chin.
Finally, the biggest change is something that can’t be felt or seen, but is experienced none the less and that is losing the ability to naturally conceive and carry children. The change in hormones is an indication of your body no longer ovulating, which is why your periods change and then stop completely. (6)
Once you’re post-menopausal your periods will cease as will most menstrual symptoms such as cramping, headaches, and sore breasts. Many women find this relieving as they no longer have to worry about birth control.
There are ways you can still have a child such as through IVF and with the help of hormone therapies, but these do carry risks.
In the end…
There are many changes a woman’s body has to go through when she is experiencing perimenopause or menopause. Some of these changes are small and are more easily dealt with, such as lighter periods or gradual weight gain, while others can be more severe, such as hot flushes, vaginal dryness, or issues with bladder control.
As your hormone levels shift and your body begins to produce less estrogen and progesterone, you will experience noticeable changes in your body. The biggest change, of course, is that once menopause starts, you will lose the ability to reproduce.
- “Menopause basics,” Source: https://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause/menopause-basics/
- “Perimenopause Periods: Spotting, Heavy Bleeds, and More,” Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/perimenopause-periods
- “The Connection Between Menopause and OAB,” Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/overactive-bladder-menopause
- “Top Questions About Menopause and Your Health,” Source: https://owh-wh-d9-dev.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/documents/fact-sheet-menopause.pdf
- “Vaginal dryness after menopause: How to treat it?” Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menopause/expert-answers/vaginal-dryness/faq-20115086
- “Menopause and Pregnancy: What You Should Know,” Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/menopause-pregnancy