Some women have no menopause symptoms. Others have mild and largely tolerable symptoms, while a certain percentage may find them so severe that they seek medical treatment. Here are three menopause symptoms be aware of:
Hot flashes and “night sweats”
Up to 80 percent of American women going through menopause experience these sudden feelings of intense heat, accompanied by sweating and a flushed face and followed by a clammy feeling. Sometimes an “aura” precedes the flash— you know you’re going to have one. Heart rate increases, and your body temperature fluctuates. All this is caused by a decrease in estrogen, which is somehow involved in regulating body temperature, but the hot flash is as yet poorly understood. By day, the hot flash can be embarrassing and disconcerting and can result in sweat-soaked clothing. By night, hot flashes or night sweats disrupt sleep. A woman may awaken several times a night in sweat-soaked sheets and feel exhausted the next day.
As women grow older, the drop in estrogen causes vaginal walls to become thinner and more vulnerable to injury. The thinning of vaginal walls is accompanied by a decline in vaginal lubrication, which may lead to pain during sexual intercourse (and can account for diminished sexual desire). Vaginal dryness can be treated with water-based lubricants or moisturizers such as Astroglide, or with vaginal creams containing estrogen. Women may be glad to resume sexual activity when intercourse becomes pleasurable again, provided they have or can find an interested partner. Many heterosexual women, happy to be liberated from birth control and worries about pregnancy, report an increase in sexual pleasure in their 50s. But little research has been done on female sexuality after menopause.
Though menopause historically has been characterized as a time of irritability, unpredictable moods, and depression, recent studies have shown that most women greet the cessation of menstruation with relief. Women who spent their earlier adulthood raising children may find themselves with the time to refocus their energy and begin anew. Sex can be a richer and more satisfying experience when adults have the time and energy to focus on each other. For women in good mental and physical health, the onset of menopause is rarely a major crisis.
Some women do feel angry and depressed, of course, and do experience mood swings. Those suffering from night sweats and other troublesome symptoms may be irritable from lack of sleep. Some women find themselves dreading growing older and are unhappy about the onset of wrinkles and other signs of aging.
Midlife is not a period of renewal and reduced responsibilities for all women. Many women in their 40s and 50s are dealing with high-pressure jobs, or trying to restart careers in a difficult job market. Some are trying to manage adolescent children and figure out how to pay for college. Marital problems may erupt; some women get divorced or are widowed at midlife. Many also find themselves responsible for the care of their grandchildren, their parents, or their partner’s parents, in addition to their usual responsibilities.
All this might contribute to depression, but the influence of decreased hormone levels on emotions is a matter of debate. Depression may be situational rather than hormonal. For example, studies suggest that women raising young children are more likely to be depressed than menopausal women. Thus, depression in a 50-year-old woman with severe family problems is probably due to the problems rather than a reduction in estrogen.
And even though menopause itself may not cause depression, it can aggravate pre-existing problems. Depression during and after menopause may be a continuation of depression earlier in life. If depression is significantly affecting your life, you should seek professional advice.