“If you’re approaching your mid 40s or beyond and were born a woman, then it’s quite likely that you’re going to be going through perimenopause”, says Kathy Abernethy, Director of Menopause Services at Peppy and immediate past Chair of the British Menopause Society.
The average age to go through the menopause is 51. However, perimenopausal and menopause symptoms can occur any time between the ages of 45-55 and can last for years.
Menopausal symptoms can be challenging and even distressing. Yet, research shows that nearly a third of women never seek information about menopause before they experience it and 20% had experienced symptoms for a year or more before being assessed by a healthcare provider.
Knowledge is power with this life stage, and help is available.
“As you approach menopause you may feel different without knowing exactly why. It is as much a mental as a physical thing, in the sense that you just don’t feel yourself” – Kathy Abernethy
Whether you’re interested on behalf of a loved one or colleague, here are ten tell-tale signs of menopause.
Symptom: Hot flushes and sweats
Why it occurs: Your thermoregulation – i.e. the temperature control in your brain – goes out of control and loses its accuracy. “This means you end up feeling overwhelmingly hot when you shouldn’t necessarily do so. It can happen at night, when you’re least expecting it and waking up in a sweat can be quite a shock,” says Abernethy.
Symptom: Unexplained tiredness and fatigue
Why it occurs: The tiredness is partly due to hormonal fluctuations. When your hormone levels are low, you feel tired. Night sweats can also disrupt your sleep, so you don’t get enough rest.
Symptom: Sleep issues, like not being able to get off to sleep or stay asleep
Why it occurs: Sometimes this can be associated with hot flushes, but otherwise the cause is unknown – it’s just an annoying early warning sign of perimenopause.
Symptom: Brain fog
Why it occurs: Often called ‘cotton wool brain’ you just lose your clarity of thought and can’t order your thoughts in a clear way. This one can really take you by surprise because it often happens before hot flushes and sweats start occurring. Scientists believe it has something to do with hormone changes. Estrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone are all responsible for different processes in the body, including cognition.
Symptom: Word blindness
Why it occurs: You know exactly what you want to say, or the name of the person standing in front of you, but in the moment you just can’t recall it. This again is due to hormone fluctuations, as is poor concentration.
Symptom: Mood changes
Why it occurs: Due to changes in serotonin in the brain you can find yourself feeling quite flat or emotionally low for no apparent reason. Some women also feel intolerant, ratty and tearful. These mental health issues are quite distinct from clinical depression.
Why it occurs: things that you would normally do very confidently can become a challenge and anxious thoughts can become overwhelming. Hormone fluctuations are to blame.
Symptom: Changes to your periods
Why it occurs: You may start missing periods or find they increase in frequency before they actually stop. Periods may become more heavy or prolonged. During this time your balance of progesterone is different, so you have cycles when you’re not ovulating, or the time between periods is longer so the build-up of the womb lining is thicker, meaning there’s more blood to come out.
Symptom: Bladder changes and vaginal atrophy
Why it occurs: Having to go to the toilet more frequently and urgently means the bladder is overactive. This is due to a lack of oestrogen in the vagina and near the bladder opening. Vaginal atrophy is the thinning, drying and inflammation of the vaginal walls that may occur when your body has less oestrogen.
Symptom: Dry eyes, skin and hair
Why it occurs: Because of changes in collagen you start to get a few more wrinkles, your hair loses its gloss and you might see dry patches or dryness on your skin. If the skin becomes itchy it’s known as formication and it’s caused when the oestrogen receptors on the body are disrupted, either being flooded or restricted with oestrogen.
Menopause is an inevitable life stage that every person who is born a woman will experience directly, but it will also impact those around them – their partner, friends, family members and colleagues. It’s not just a women’s issue, and it is something we should all be aware of.
- Educate yourself – you can only support yourself
- or others if you’re aware of what menopause is and how it affects people. Peppy’s menopause blog posts are a great place to start.
- Know the pathway to support – to learn why your workplace should offer menopause support, click here to hear from Kathy Abernethy.
- Most of the menopause symptoms do not last forever and life should return to normal once you’re post-menopausal. “With symptoms that persist, like bladder issues and vaginal atrophy, there are easy treatments available. So there’s no need to suffer in silence”.