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Signs and Symptoms of Menopause

Every woman experiences menopause differently. Even the age at which menopause begins may be unique to you. Some women reach menopause in their 30s or 40s, and some not until their 60s, but menopause most often occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.

Your signs and symptoms also are likely to be very individual. You may breeze through menopause with few signs and symptoms. Or you may experience a number of physical and emotional changes, including:

Irregular periods. Your menstrual periods may stop suddenly, or gradually get lighter or heavier and then stop. The unpredictability of your periods may be your first clue that menopause is approaching.

Decreased fertility. When ovulation begins to fluctuate, you're less likely to become pregnant. Until you haven't had a period for a year, however, pregnancy is still possible.

Vaginal and urinary changes. As your estrogen level declines, the tissues lining your vagina and urethra - the opening to your bladder - become drier, thinner and less elastic. With decreased lubrication you may experience burning or itching, along with increased risk of infections of your urinary tract or vagina. These changes may make sexual intercourse uncomfortable or even painful. You may feel the need to urinate more frequently or more urgently, and you may experience urinary incontinence.

Hot flashes. As your estrogen level drops, your blood vessels may expand rapidly, causing your skin temperature to rise. This can lead to a feeling of warmth that moves upward from your chest to your shoulders, neck and head. You may sweat, and as the sweat evaporates from your skin, you may feel chilled, weak and slightly faint. Your face might look flushed, and red blotches may appear on your chest, neck and arms. Most hot flashes last from 30 seconds to several minutes, although they can last much longer. The frequency, as well as the duration, of hot flashes varies from person to person. You may have them once every hour or only occasionally. They can occur any time during the day or night. They may be a part of your life for a year or more, or you may never have them.

Sleep disturbances and night sweats. Night sweats are often a consequence of hot flashes. You may awaken from a sound sleep with soaking night sweats followed by chills. You may have difficulty falling back to sleep or achieving a deep, restful sleep. Lack of sleep may affect your mood and overall health.

Changes in appearance. Many women gain a modest amount of weight - about 5 pounds on average - during the menopausal transition. The fat that once was concentrated in your hips and thighs may settle above your waist and in your abdomen. You may notice a loss of fullness in your breasts, thinning hair and wrinkles in your skin. If you previously experienced adult acne, it may become worse. Although your estrogen level drops, your body continues to produce small amounts of the male hormone testosterone. As a result, you may develop coarse hair on your chin, upper lip, chest and abdomen.

Emotional and cognitive changes. You may experience irritability, fatigue, decreased memory and diminished concentration as you approach menopause. These symptoms have sometimes been attributed to hormonal fluctuations. Yet other factors are more likely to contribute to these changes, including sleep deprivation and stressful life events - such as the illness or death of a parent, grown children leaving home or returning home, and retirement


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