What Are the Signs of Menopause?

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Signs and symptoms of approaching menopause include hot flashes, irregular periods, vaginal dryness, night sweats and mood changes, according to Mayo Clinic. Other signs are hair loss, dry skin, weight gain, loss of breast fullness and sleep problems. Some women experience anxiety and feelings of sadness and loss.

Menopause occurs 12 months after a woman's final menstrual cycle, states Mayo Clinic. It is a natural biologic process and can occur anytime in a woman's 40s or 50s; in the United States, the average age of menopause is 51.

As women begin approaching their late 30s, their ovaries start producing less of the hormones progesterone and estrogen, reducing fertility, explains Mayo Clinic. Women typically begin experiencing irregular menstrual periods in their 40s, with menstrual periods becoming lighter or heavier and appearing more or less frequently. Missing periods is natural during perimenopause, with many women having periods every two to four months. Eventually, women stop having menstrual periods entirely, signalling an end to fertility.

Typically, the symptoms of menopause appear differently in women. They can last for up to 2 to 5 years before they disappear. Some symptoms, such as vaginal dryness that causes pain, can last for a long time and get worse with age. A hot flash, or feeling of heat in the upper part of the body, starts on the neck or chest before moving downwards. This may cause sweating, and the skin on the area may become patchy and red.

Women experience hot flashes while sleeping, which may only last for a few minutes. Hot flashes are common during the first year of menopause. A person may also have a change in their heart rate, as it may become stronger and rapid. Some women usually have a hard time getting sleep at night as a result of anxiety. Sex becomes difficult and painful for most women who experience vaginal dryness, causing a condition referred to as "vaginal atrophy," which can last up to 10 years.

Post-menopausal women suffer increased risks of heart disease and osteoporosis, notes Mayo Clinic. Due to a loss of elasticity in the tissues of the vagina and urethra, many post-menopausal women experience urinary incontinence. In such cases, Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles can help.