By Rachel Lankester, founder Magnificent Midlife Movement
Think you might be in menopause? Are you sensing some weird stuff, making you wonder if by some remote chance you’re in menopause, but you can’t be really can you, cause you’re far too young! Or just wondering what are the first signs of menopause? And what is happening to your body! Who pinched it and what did they do with it?
Welcome! Relax. Here’s all you need to know about the possible signs of menopause. It’s a tricky subject but we’re here to make it all that much more understandable and definitely way less worrying!
First things first! Some definitions. Menopause is that moment in time exactly one year after your last period. Usually around 51. Perimenopause is the period leading up to that menopause moment. But the world like to talk about menopause and the symptoms of menopause so rather than add to the confusion we’ll stick with menopause for now!
Second, quick reality check. Menopause happens to all women who are born female, IF we are lucky enough to reach the age at which menopause kicks in. You are no less of a woman because you are going through menopause. You are just as beautiful, vibrant, sexy, vivacious, gorgeous as you’ve ever been. DO NOT FORGET THAT!
You made it through puberty and menopause is just puberty in reverse. There’s a lot to be said for no more fear of pregnancy, hormonal fluctuations, PMT and just monthly bleeding for goodness sake! So take a deep breath. Menopause may just turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you! When this is over you will be off the hormonal rollercoaster for good. Yippee!
Third knowledge point before we get into the detail of the symptoms or signs of menopause. There are two creatures that go through menopause. Ourselves and whales. When female whales go through menopause, they become the leaders of their pods often for up to 50 years. They’re the matriarchs of whale society which would not survive without them.
Menopause happened to me at 41! That was a whole decade earlier than ‘normal’ menopause age. And a bit weird and certainly unexpected. I was trying for another child so it kinda knocked me for six. I ‘d had no symptoms other than a bonkers hormone test! I hadn’t even noticed my periods must have been a bit off!
So don’t assume that signs of menopause won’t start up till your 50s. And (peri)menopause can last for ages, so if you’re mid 40s and experiencing some weird stuff that might be menopause, fear not! That’s all fairly normal. But how you live your life can impact both your symptoms and when it all kicks off for you so don’t panic if you’re nowhere near your 50s and still experiencing some weird stuff. We’ll get to how to manage it shortly.
Meanwhile what can you expect? What signs should you look out for? There are apparently 34 potential symptoms of menopause. But why not just throw the kitchen sink in there for good measure! Everyone is different and some women may experience nothing at all, some a few and some lots.
STOP did you register that? You may not experience any symptoms. You may experience some or just a very few. There are lots of reasons for the discrepancy between women but first, let’s look at what might happen.
So if you’re a bit stuck in thinking menopause is the end of a meaningful life, JUST STOP THAT RIGHT NOW! Be more whale. When we go through menopause, we become more valuable to our communities as leaders than as breeders. Find out more about this in Let’s Be More Whale.
The 34 potential symptoms or signs of menopause
You may experience symptoms for a few months, several years, or NO TIME AT ALL! Here’s the full list – and I’ve starred* the most common ones.
- Hot flushes/flashes*
- Night sweats*
- Irregular periods*
- Mood swings*
- Vaginal dryness*
- Decreased libido*
- Breast soreness
- Burning mouth
- Joint pain
- Digestive problems
- Electric shocks
- Muscle tension
- Gum problems
- Tingling extremities
- Itchy skin
- Disrupted sleep*
- Hair loss
- Memory lapses*
- Difficulty concentrating*
- Weight gain*
- Dizzy spells
- Stress incontinence
- Brittle nails
- Irregular heartbeat
- Body odour
- Panic disorder
Really signs of menopause?
BUT STOP RIGHT HERE! Cos this is just the full scary list and you are UNLIKELY to suffer the majority of these. If you do, then it’s your body telling you something needs addressing. That could be something physical or emotional.
You see, the only actual symptom or sign of menopause is the cessation of your menstrual cycle. All the others are symptoms ASSOCIATED with menopause.
These can all be triggered by changes in our hormones. But there is probably an underlying cause to the symptoms which is revealed once the protection of our reproductive hormones starts to drop. If they were symptoms OF menopause, most woman would likely get them, but we all go through menopause very differently.
If you’ve always been a bit anxious, you may find you are more so during menopause. If you’ve always had trouble sleeping, that may get worse. These symptoms are common but not normal!
Think of menopause symptoms as the canary in the coalmine, warning you that you need to make diet and lifestyle changes to stay healthy long term. Thank you menopause!
It’s also easy to attribute all these changes to menopause but actually it could just be because our bodies are getting older. Or sadness might come because we’re languishing in the happiness U-curve which bottoms out in our 40s! Or we’re fed up with the life we have and relationships that no longer fulfill us and make us irritable.
Or we’ve bought into all the negative narratives about midlife, menopause and getting older as a woman (as I did at 41), and that’s causing us to be both anxious and depressed. Or we have an overload of unnatural toxic products in our lives that are causing our bodies to be hormonally challenged.
To find out more about all these potential other issues impacting our hormones, as well as the many products in our environment that can impact hormonal balance, for example, listen to my wonderful podcast with naturopath Angela Counsel, or read the transcription of that fabulously informative interview here.
Menopause gets blamed for a lot and it’s not necessarily to blame. Weight gain may speed up around menopause with hormonal changes, but fundamentally it happens because our metabolism slows down as our muscle mass naturally declines with age. If we make sure to do weight lifting to maintain our declining muscle mass, we can reverse that trend.
Often it’s a hot flush/flash that alerts women to changes happening in their bodies. Or new aches and pains that can’t be explained. Sometimes there’s an overwhelming feeling of sadness and many women are prescribed anti-depressants when what they really need is a bit more hormonal balance in their lives. Or those negative midlife narratives have taken hold, not to mention ageism kicking in.
Or maybe it’s a sudden inability to shift those extra pounds that alerts you to changes but as we age if we continue consuming and behaving as we’ve always done, we’re bound to put on weight and find it more difficult to shift it.
Many women fear they have early onset Alzheimer’s because they feel they are getting a bit more forgetful or less able to concentrate. But no, it’s just hormonal changes. Good to know huh!
If you’ve had a child, think pregnancy brain. You may have had difficulty sleeping while pregnant and the same may happen during menopause. It’s all caused by hormonal changes.
It’s just that no one talks about menopause, it’s still taboo, we’re not prepared for it, we don’t know how to take better care of ourselves and it can all go on for rather a long time!
Just for clarity, I’m talking here about symptoms associated with a natural menopause. If yours has come very early or been caused by illness or surgery in particular, then the sudden change in your hormones may lead to more of these symptoms occurring – but also not necessarily.
One woman I know had a hysterectomy in her mid 50s and the only symptom she suffered afterwards was trouble sleeping which she fixed with tapping meditation.
Taking back control and helping yourself
If you go to the doctor complaining of menopause symptoms and have a blood test which confirms you are in (peri)menopause, you may be offered HRT. But HRT remains contentious for many and there are lots of natural ways to try to manage symptoms before resorting to HRT. Menopause isn’t illness, so why not try other ways to help first? HRT can be a useful Band Aid for some women, but where will you be in 10 years time if you don’t fix the underlying issues? And if you mask those with HRT, you won’t have the chance to fix them either.
What you put in place now will also help set you up for good general health in the long term.
1. Sort out your diet
A good diet is the first place to start. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, reduce your alcohol, sugar, and caffeine intake, all of which mess with hormones and cause hot flushes, and eat natural phytoestrogens to replace the estrogen your body no longer produces with foodstuffs like flaxseeds, lentils, tofu and soy. Here’s a comprehensive list of all the foodstuffs that can help. Daily ground flaxseeds on my breakfast cereal as well as organic soya milk instead of dairy have massively helped me.
2. Get plenty of exercise
As we age, our metabolism slows down. It’s easy to blame menopause for middle-age spread but the natural ageing process is just as responsible. As estrogen leaves our body we need to work harder to maintain bone health. Regular exercise, both cardio and weight bearing will help in the long term as well as assisting through menopause. Exercise is also great for our mental health.
Yoga is wonderful for maintaining strong bones and flexibility. It may even help reduce hot flushes/flashes. If you’re overweight you’re much more likely to suffer from hot flushes. The better you feel about yourself and your general health, the more likely you are to have a positive experience of the change. Don’t forget your Kegel exercises too to sort out any urinary leakage issues!
3. Try natural remedies
Herbs such as black cohosh, sage and red clover can all help with symptoms particularly hot flushes. Take a fish oil supplement to help protect your bones. Sea buckthorn oil, taken as a supplement can help with vaginal dryness. Coconut oil can be eaten, used as a personal lubricant, cleanser and moisturizer.
The YES organic vaginal lubricant range is excellent and available on prescription in the UK. Here’s some advice on how to stay sexy through menopause and beyond. Pjur lubricant is my current favorite. It’s not the most natural but it’s very good! A regular mindfulness or general meditation practice can really help ease mood swings and anxiety.
Finally, when it comes to menopause, don’t expect the worst but also don’t suffer in silence. Get the help you need. If your symptoms are bad and natural remedies don’t work, there is also HRT.
Having gone through menopause at 41, I was advised to go on HRT to protect my bones and heart until I reached normal menopause age, when I chose to come off HRT. I chose the body-identical yam-based HRT rather than pregnant mare’s urine. These are also available on prescription in the UK though some doctors don’t seem to know this.
One natural remedy in isolation may not do much for you – but a package can really work.
My hormonal balance package
Since turning 51 (‘normal’ menopause age), I have managed any midlife hormonal challenges with a combination of: no caffeine; natural phytoestogens every day in the form of soya (instead of dairy) milk, ground (or better yet soaked) flax seeds (on my granola) and chickpeas; limited sugar and processed foods; a relatively healthy diet with lots of vegetables; limiting (often unsuccessfully!) alcohol; meditation when I remember; running at least 3 times a week; yoga/stretching every day.
If you want lots more great ideas to help with specific symptoms check out Natural Treatment For Menopause – All You Need To Know
You can read more about my early menopause experience in How To Cope When The Change Comes Too Early.
The real trick is to embrace menopause as a natural process that actually empowers you. We’ve been working with our wombs all our lives. Midlife is not the time to start fighting them and the essence of our feminine power.
At Magnificent Midlife we’re challenging stereotypes and changing perceptions. We think of midlife and menopause as a time of re-evaluation and regeneration as we embark on the exciting second half of our lives. I hope you agree.
If you want to hear more about the magic of menopause listen to my podcast interview with the amazing Darcy Steinke who was the first to alert me to whales becoming leaders post menopause.
Good luck! Don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can help you further.
Why not check out Rachel’s workshop on Natural Menopause. Click here to check it out.
Rachel Lankester is founder of the Magnificent Midlife Movement, host of the Magnificent Midlife Podcast, a midlife mentor and editor of the Mutton Club online magazine. After an initially devastating early menopause at 41, she dedicated herself to helping women vibrantly transition through the sometimes messy middle of life, helping them cope better with menopause and ageing in general, and create magnificent next chapters. She’s been featured in/on BBC Woman’s Hour, The Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, The Age Buster, Woman’s Weekly, Prima Magazine, eShe, Tatler HK and Woman’s Own amongst others. She believes we just get better with age.