For many women, perimenopause and menopause can be a time of fear and uncertainty. Whether it's the anticipation of long-feared symptoms, like mood swings and hot flushes, or deliberating whether or not to start menopause treatment, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to ‘the change’.
Perimenopause usually begins in the mid-to late forties and comes with many symptoms. Some of these symptoms, like weight gain, are more well known, while others, such as brain fog, headaches and pins and needles, are less heard of.
Menopause Symptom Checklist
It’s a good idea to keep track of your menopause symptoms, especially if you use a menopause treatment like Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to monitor how you’re impacted depending on what you have going on for you.
While many of these symptoms are the result of hormonal changes, they can all play into one another, meaning that some symptoms may lead to others worsening, such as hot flushes, sleep disturbances and fatigue.
Here is a list of symptoms to look out for:
- Raised or stronger heart rate
- Feeling tense or nervous
- Anxiety/panic attacks
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of interest in sex
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings/irritability
- Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
- Trouble remembering things
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Urinary issues
- Vaginal dryness
- Difficulty breathing
- Pins and needles
- Crying spells
- Joint pain
- Loss of interest in most things
- Changes in skin condition
- Breast soreness
Hot flushes and night sweats are two of the most common symptoms of menopause. This is when you have a sudden feeling of hot or cold in your face, neck and chest, which can result in you feeling dizzy and stressed. Your skin may become flushed and red and you might sweat excessively.
Hot flushes vary in frequency, severity and length, but often last a few minutes. Some women experience them regularly while others only once in a while. On average, menopausal women experience night sweats for around 7 years, but they can last longer.
To help with hot flushes try wearing loose clothing made from natural fibres, carrying a cooling spray, using a fan while sleeping or at your desk and carrying a spare change of clothes and a strong deodorant if sweating is an issue.
Night sweats and trouble sleeping
Hot flushes can also occur throughout the night – these are known as night sweats, and can interrupt your sleep, leaving you feeling tired, irritable and unable to concentrate the following day. Mood changes, another common symptom of menopause, can also make it difficult to sleep. When mood changes worsen, it could be a sign of depression, which may impact your ability to sleep. It’s also possible for menopausal women to develop sleep apnoea.
To combat poor sleep during menopause, make sure to follow a regular sleep schedule, maintain good sleep hygiene (avoiding screens after a certain time, for example), exercise regularly, avoid large meals before bed and avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol.
If lifestyle changes don’t help, you may also be able to use over the counter sleep aids or prescription sleep medication from your GP. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia may also be an option that works for you.
Mood changes and low moods
Mood swings, irritability, unhappiness and depression are common symptoms of perimenopause and can impact several areas of your life, from your sleep to your relationships and even your work.
Many women experience depression and anxiety in menopause without realising what’s really causing it. It’s useful to speak to your doctor about therapy or medication if you’re feeling lower than usual and find you have lost interest in things and activities you used to find enjoyable.
Lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, a good sleep routine, a healthy diet and mindfulness practices might also help.
Menopause can cause problems with your memory, concentration and focus. This is known as brain fog, and can be exacerbated by other common menopause symptoms, such as sleep issues, depression and hot flushes.
Controlling your other symptoms, whether through HRT, therapy or lifestyle changes, can have a positive impact on your cognitive issues, making brain fog less severe and even stopping it all together.
Fatigue is another extremely common symptom of menopause and is often the result of poor sleep and low moods, which can leave menopausal women feeling mentally and physically exhausted. Falling hormone levels may also cause fatigue. You may find yourself uninterested in seeing friends or doing activities you previously enjoyed and unable to concentrate at work due to mental and physical fatigue.
Exercising regularly can help to boost energy levels, as can eating a healthy, balanced diet. Lifestyle changes, HRT and other treatments that can help to improve your sleep and/or mood changes can also help you to manage your fatigue.
How to Treat Menopause
Treating menopause often comes down to a combination of lifestyle changes and prescription medication. HRT is the most common treatment for menopause. It helps to alleviate symptoms by replenishing your hormone levels which may be declining as a result of menopause.
A healthy lifestyle, which includes regular exercise, a balanced diet and managing stress, is also vital in managing perimenopause and menopause symptoms. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is recommended to help alleviate symptoms and improve bone and cardiovascular health — both of which are affected as a result of declining oestrogen levels during menopause. Make sure to eat dairy products, leafy greens, and fatty fish to get these essential vitamins and minerals.
When to see a Dr about Menopause
Menopause and all of its symptoms are completely natural, but that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable. If you find that symptoms are having a negative impact on your day to day life, be sure to speak to your GP, who can offer advice and potential treatments.
If you notice any unusual symptoms, or any bleeding after a significant amount of time without menstruation, it could be an indication of other health issues which should be investigated as soon as possible with your GP.
Menopause self care
Beyond starting on menopause treatment or speaking to your GP, self-care can be a vital tool in helping you manage and even relieve menopause symptoms.
These simple self care tips from our inhouse expert not only improve your overall well being, but can help you feel empowered to navigate through this significant phase in your life.
Ensuring your body has the right nutrition is key. Maintain a balanced diet rich in sources of calcium and vitamin D to support bone health. You can also consider minimising caffeine and alcohol intake, as these can both exacerbate menopausal symptoms (such as insomnia).
Even a daily brisk walk can aid your symptoms - cardiovascular workouts can improve your mood! Consider speaking to a personal trainer to discuss how you can incorporate weight bearing exercises into your workout, which can help preserve bone density – which is vital considering lower oestrogen levels contribute to bone loss, sometimes leading to osteoporosis.
Research suggests high stress levels can intensify symptoms of menopause, and in this day and age it can be difficult to escape stress completely. Practising yoga, mindfulness, or meditation can help you adjust to this new phase in your life, and manage symptoms effectively.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms during perimenopause or menopause, it's important to remember that they are very real and, indeed, normal. That said, it is not uncommon for some of these symptoms to have a tangible impact on your quality of life. If this is the case, be sure to speak with your GP about starting HRT or finding another suitable treatment for you.