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: :   Menopause Central Menopause Central Listening to Your Body: The Symptoms of Menopause

Listening to Your Body: The Symptoms of Menopause

HFN 005 Listening 1 4446911As women approach menopause, the overwhelming majority of them will face symptoms related to fluctuating hormone levels in their bodies. Do you suspect you're experiencing some of these symptoms? Let's take a look at a few of the most common symptoms that women nearing menopause may encounter.

Hot Flashes
Not all women have hot flashes, but most do. Interpreted by the brain as a sudden wave of heat or warmth that abruptly engulfs the body, hot flashes are a reaction to a decreased level of the hormone estrogen and often cause redness of the skin and perspiration on the upper body and face. Their frequency and intensity are linked directly to the rate at which your estrogen decreases. If estrogen levels drop gradually over a long period of time, hot flashes can be relatively mild. If your estrogen production drops off sharply, you will probably experience extreme and frequent bouts with this fiery condition.

Vaginal Dryness
Also related to decreased estrogen levels, this symptom manifests itself as a dryness in the vaginal area and can result in itching, irritation, and discomfort during intercourse. Up until this point, your vagina has most likely been very elastic and able to accommodate child birth and sex. As you enter menopause, the walls of your vagina become thinner, less elastic, and may atrophy. Emotionally, this can prove tough to deal with, especially if you're experiencing this symptom at a young age or have an active sex life. There is a large selection of lubricating products to treat vaginal dryness, including prescription medications and over-the-counter products. Talk to your doctor about what's right for you.

Loss of Libido
This is not an issue for all women going through menopause, and many therapists believe that menopausal loss of libido—a decreased interest in sex—is a psychological condition triggered by other symptoms, such as vaginal dryness and fatigue. This is certainly understandable, and if you're experiencing a loss of libido, know that you are not alone. Becoming sexually motivated can prove difficult and tiresome when dealing with the conditions associated with vaginal dryness, especially if you're also having night sweats and find yourself fatigued from lack of a good night's sleep.  Among the recommendations that could help are activities that relax you: yoga, stretching, deep breathing, meditation, and massage. Open communication with your partner is primary so that this particular symptom does not cause a rift in your relationship.

Irregular Periods
Many women experience irregularities in their menstrual cycle at some point in their lives, such as missed periods, too frequent periods, heavy flow, and spotting. These irregularities can have several causes, such as certain medications, high stress, or a hormone imbalance, and aren't always indicators of menopause. Nevertheless, they can indicate that you are going through perimenopause, the transitional stage preceding menopause in which the menstrual cycle starts becoming irregular. Perimenopause usually begins in your forties, and sometimes as early as your thirties. During this time your period may become heavier or lighter, shorter or longer, and less frequent, and you may start having hot flashes. These symptoms can signal the approach of menopause and should not be ignored, especially if you're experiencing other menopausal symptoms at the same time.  Menopause is not a disease; it's the natural evolution of a woman's reproductive cycle, and there are countless ways to alleviate the symptoms.  

Night Sweats
Night sweats are the more intense version of the hot flash. They occur while you sleep and disrupt your night's rest. If you aren't sure whether or not you are experiencing this symptom, typically night sweats consist of heavy, pillow- and sheet-soaking perspiration, and are hard to miss. Light cotton pajamas and nightgowns, or better yet, nightclothing made of moisture-wicking fabric, are best if you're suffering, and, depending on the season, layering a top sheet and blanket will help. See HFN's article on night sweats for a more detailed discussion.

Mood Swings
Just as with night sweats, you'll know if you're experiencing mood swings, as will the people around you. You can be happy and joyful in one moment, then find yourself in tears the next. If you're having a lot of hot flashes, that in itself can cause irritability. Fortunately, as are many menopausal symptoms, mood swings are treatable. See HFN's article on mood swings for a more detailed discussion.

It is important to note that while these are the most common symptoms of menopause, there are many others, such as fatigue, sleep disorders, and hair loss. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it's time to visit the doctor, as this is the best way of positively diagnosing your issue. Only your healthcare provider can assess your condition and prescribe the right steps to move forward. ♀

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