Menopause is a natural part of aging. The lower amounts of estrogen that come with menopause will cause changes in your body. These changes occur over time. Menopause is different for everyone. Some women notice little difference in their bodies. Others may find it difficult to cope with their symptoms.
The most common symptom of menopause is hot flushes (hot flashes). As many as 75% of menopausal women in the United States will have them. A hot flush is a sudden feeling of heat that rushes to the upper body and face. The skin may redden like a blush. You also may break out in a sweat. A hot flush may last from a few seconds to several minutes or longer.
Hot flushes can happen at any time-day or night. They can be mild or severe. Hot flushes may come a few times a month or several times a day, depending on the woman. Some women will have hot flushes for a few months, some for a few years, and some not at all. Even though hot flushes are a nuisance, are sometimes embarrassing, and may interfere with daily life, they are not harmful.
Hot flushes can cause a lack of sleep by often waking a woman from a deep sleep. A lack of sleep may be one of the biggest problems you face as you approach menopause. Too little sleep can affect your mood, health, and ability to cope with daily activities. Some women have less rapid eye movement-known as REM-sleep. This is the stage of sleep when you dream. REM sleep makes up about 20% of an adult's normal sleep cycle. Without it, you may wake up without feeling rested. Some women approaching menopause also may find it takes longer to get to sleep.
Vaginal and Urinary Tract Changes
Loss of estrogen causes changes in the vagina. Its lining may become thin and dry. These changes can cause pain during sexual intercourse. They also can make the vagina more prone to infection, which can cause burning and itching. The urinary tract also changes with age. The urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder) can become dry, inflamed, or irritated. Some women may need to urinate more often. Women may have an increased risk of bladder infection after menopause.
Bone and Other Body Changes
Bone loss is a normal part of aging. At menopause, the rate of bone loss increases. Osteoporosis, which can result from this bone loss, increases the risk of breaking bones in older women. The bones of the hip, wrist, and spine are affected most often.
The estrogen produced by women's ovaries before menopause protects them from heart attacks and stroke. When less estrogen is made after menopause, women lose much of this protection. The risk of heart attack and stroke then increases.
Menopause does not cause depression. However, the change in hormone levels may make you feel nervous, irritable, or very tired. These feelings may be linked to other symptoms of menopause, such as lack of sleep.
If you are under a lot of stress, the changes of menopause may be harder to manage. Many women in midlife are going through major life changes anyway. There may stress related to money or your job. Some women may be watching children leave home and are learning to deal with the "empty nest." Some are saddened that they can no longer have children. More often, women find themselves part of the "sandwich generation," becoming caregivers for their children, grandchildren, and their aging parents. If you find it hard to cope, talk about your feelings with your partner, a close friend, a counselor, or your doctor.