She’ll go through many hormonal changes throughout a woman’s life, one of those being menopause. It is a medical condition that needs more attention among medical professionals and researchers.
Women are left wondering what to expect or if what they are experiencing is normal. As a 50-year-old woman, I’ve found myself wondering: What are the symptoms of menopause at age 50+, and are they different from those experienced by women in their forties? Is this it? What’s to come?
Menopause is the day you’ve gone 12 months without having a menstrual period. That day can come any time in your 40s or 50s. I’ve talked with many women, including friends, my aunts, mom, etc., and one thing is clear.
Menopause happens at different times and with varying circumstances.
Some women have a hysterectomy, which brings an end to their periods. One of my aunts had a uterine ablation and never had another period. A friend had an ablation, but it didn’t end her periods, and within months she had to have a hysterectomy.
Yet another friend had regular cycles, then they just stopped. She even took a pregnancy test, thinking she might be pregnant. Her period never returned, and that was that.
Meanwhile, I’ve had, thus far, a long, drawn-out process with horrible heavy periods and a recent diagnosis of adenomyosis. Now I’m faced with deciding which of the treatment options is best for me.
Each woman has a unique experience, yet we all tend to have many symptoms in common.
When do the Symptoms of Menopause Begin?
Between the time your cycles become irregular and the day your periods stop, you may go through many of the symptoms of menopause.
The menopausal transition may start with irregular periods, or you may stop having them all at once. The age you began menstruation may determine when you hit menopause. In the US, the average age of menopause is age 51; you can expect it to occur sometime between age 45-55.
Women whose menstrual cycle began at age 11 are more likely to experience premature menopause (before the age of 40.)
Menopause symptoms last on average about four to five years after your last period.
Symptoms of Menopause
Symptoms during perimenopause are not usually as intense as postmenopausal symptoms. Your hormone levels fluctuate throughout your life; however, as you enter menopause, you may experience more noticeable reactions. Physical changes
- Hot flashes – Women experience a sudden onset of heat, sometimes with flushing cheeks, often with sweating, a very uncomfortable feeling of being hot. These hot flashes may also cause minor palpitations.
- Night sweats – waking in the middle of the night covered in sweat, wet sheets, etc. I used chilipad or chilisleep and have since I first started having hot flashes. The best solution I’ve found for this is to sleep on a hydroponic mattress pad.
- Vaginal dryness – speak with your gynecologist, who should be able to recommend a vaginal lubricant to help.
- Mood swings – anxiety, depression, anger, and irritability are common among women in menopause. Your doctor may recommend antidepressants to moderate your mood. Some supplements may bring your body back into balance and alleviate mood swings.
- Lowered sex drive – when you no longer have to worry about getting pregnant, your sex drive drops – how’s that for a fine how d’ya do?
- Sleep problems – waking too early and not being able to fall back asleep, or reports of outright insomnia among menopausal women
- Brain fog or trouble focusing – many women find it hard to concentrate, can’t remember things, or feel they have an overall sluggish brain
- Urinary incontinence – weaker pelvic muscles may cause this symptom of menopause in women over the age of 50.
- Weight gain – metabolism slows a bit, and where you carry your weight may change as you go through menopause. Exercise and a healthy diet can help. Doctors recommend strength training not only to help prevent weight gain but also to build stronger bones.
Your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis increase after menopause. A healthy diet can help. Although, your doctor may suggest supplementing with calcium to improve bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Regular exercise can improve high blood pressure and lower your risk of heart disease.
Hot Flashes or Night Sweats
A hot flash may occur before you realize menopause is on the horizon. Many women are caught off-guard or aren’t expecting hot flashes in their forties.
Functional medicine doctors or naturopaths often use herbs such as Dong Quai, black cohosh, evening primrose, red clover, wild yam, and Korean ginseng to help manage symptoms of menopause.
Gynecologists may prescribe birth control pills to help reduce hot flashes. Hormone therapy is also frequently prescribed to help with hot flashes and other symptoms. Progesterone is used for menopause as it helps to relieve symptoms. Your healthcare provider may prescribe progesterone cream, troche, pills, or pellets injected under the skin.
It’s essential to give your doctors your complete family medical history, including if and who has had cancer, particularly breast cancer or reproductive organ cancer. In this case, your doctor may suggest you avoid the risk of using hormone replacement therapy. Estrogen Progestin Therapy, used in HRT, has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in the Women’s Health Initiative studies.
Both HRT and natural treatments for hot flashes can cause side effects. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) will stop hot flashes, although it’s important to note that when you stop taking the medication, the hot flashes will return, at least for a while.
It may help to avoid spicy foods and also to reduce caffeine intake during this time. Check out my post, How to Stop Hot Flashes at Night, for a solution that does not involve hormone replacement therapy.
I have always felt that I could cope better if I knew my bad mood was due to hormonal changes. One of the common symptoms of menopause, and one that is often joked about, is irritability or being quick to anger.
Thankfully you won’t feel these mood swings forever! During the menopausal transition, your hormones are changing. Your ovaries begin to produce less estrogen, so you feel a bit out of balance. When one hormone changes, others follow.
Estrogen and serotonin are tied together, so when your estrogen levels drop, your mood will change. You may notice feelings of anger or even rage at times, but knowing that there is a chemical reason for this has helped me during early menopause.
One way to recognize it is the onset is quick and powerful; one minute you’re okay, the next you feel like you might blow your top.
It’s also comforting to know that your body will eventually adjust to lower estrogen levels, and your emotions will stabilize.
How to Lessen Mood Swings and Irritability
As I mentioned, knowing that a chemical imbalance in your body causes your mood swings or anger can help you cope with them better. Accepting that it is what it is is part of managing those emotions. Other ways to cope with mood changes:
- Stay hydrated – Believe it or not, dehydration makes everything worse, including anxiety and depression. So drink plenty of water and keep your body well hydrated.
- Exercise – Not only does exercise help to burn off calories, but it also changes your hormone levels for the better. Regular exercise can also improve high blood pressure.
- Take a walk – Walking is good for your body, but it also can help your mind. When you feel anger taking over, hit pause and go for a walk. Most likely, things will seem less intense when you get back.
- Eat a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables.
- Ask yourself questions – Is my anger out of proportion? Is there anything else bothering me? Why am I reacting this way? Questions are an excellent way to sort out your feelings.
- See a therapist who will allow you to discuss your feelings and give you insightful feedback.
The menopausal transition can be quite a journey. I recall hot flashes in my mid to late forties that brightened my cheeks and had me pulling out the Chinese fan I kept in my bag. I vividly remember ordering ice water to suck on the ice cubes to help make the hot flashes go away!
When I began sleeping on the chilpad, I noticed a marked improvement in hot flashes even during the day.
Now that I’m 50, I no longer have hot flashes, but I still get my period, albeit irregular. I had hoped to avoid a hysterectomy, but I’m not sure I’ll see a natural end to my period with adenomyosis. I’m still deciding what to do at this point.
My gynecologist was very thorough in explaining the procedure and was very kind and thoughtful. I was encouraged to ask questions.
He didn’t talk much about what life would be like if and when I had a hysterectomy. I suppose he was giving me one thing at a time to deal with so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed.
My experiences with doctors have given me a lot of food for thought. I’ve had terrible, uncaring doctors, and I’ve had ones like my current gynecologist who care, and it shows. So much is left to be understood when it comes to women’s health!
Women deserve to have doctors who understand menopause and can guide them through it. Unfortunately, menopausal women are severely underserved in the medical community. Hopefully, those tides are changing.
Midlife can be a beautiful time for women during which one might choose to reinvent herself or take a new journey on a different path in life. While we can’t avoid symptoms of menopause, they can be managed and reduced. The key is to know your body and yourself, stay in tune with signs and signals, and strive to live naturally.
Writing Group for the Women’s Health Initiative Investigators. Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: Principal results from the Women’s Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2002;288:321-333.