Our bodies go through lots of changes, and it can sometimes be hard to know if the irregular periods, hot flashes, or other symptoms you’re experiencing are menopause, perimenopause, or something else.
You can use this perimenopause and menopause symptom checker guide to help you understand what’s happening and what it means for you.
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause refers to the transitioning period around menopause when a woman's body slows down estrogen production. The menstrual cycle becomes irregular as the ovaries prepare to stop releasing the eggs completely. Perimenopause occurs at different ages in women. It may begin as early as the mid-30s or as late as the mid-50s. For many, it lasts between four to eight years, but some women may experience it for only a short time.
Although your fertility is low during this stage, you can still get pregnant. As your body adjusts to changing hormone levels, you may experience physical changes and symptoms such as sleep problems, vaginal dryness, and reduced sex drive. Treatments such as estrogen replacement therapy can help to ease these symptoms.
What is menopause?
Menopause marks the end of a woman's reproductive years when menstruation stops completely. It's a natural process, often resulting from declining levels of estrogen and progesterone. These are the main reproductive hormones produced by the ovaries. Usually, a transient period called perimenopause precedes menopause and may occur at different ages when hormones begin to fluctuate.
Women experience some symptoms such as vaginal dryness and hot or cold flashes in the years leading to menopause.
Perimenopause vs. Menopause
Perimenopause is one stage of menopause. It is the period leading to menopause when the estrogen levels begin to drop. During perimenopause, you still have your menstrual periods and can conceive. Even if the periods are irregular, you are still ovulating.
Menopause means the end of reproductive years when the periods stop completely and you lose the ability to get pregnant. You know you are officially into menopause after 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period.
What are the First Signs of Perimenopause?
Perimenopause begins about four to ten years before menopause. The period often starts in the mid-40s but may come earlier based on a woman's body.
Usually, the first noticeable perimenopause sign is irregular periods. The cycles may be shorter or longer, and the periods may be lighter or heavier than usual. Other common symptoms of perimenopause include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Irregular periods
- Itching and dryness
- Headaches and vertigo
- Mood changes, anxiety, and depression
Menopause and perimenopause symptoms are very similar. If you are older than 50, it may mean that you’ve transitioned from perimenopause to menopause.
Menopause and Perimenopause Symptom Checker
Your body goes through many other changes as you approach menopause, but is it perimenopause or something else? This menopause and perimenopause symptom checker can help answer the most common questions.
Is fatigue a symptom of menopause?
It's normal to feel tired or overworked from time to time, especially after working all day. However, unrelenting exhaustion, where you feel constantly drained, can signify menopause. Many women experience perimenopause crushing fatigue, which zaps their energy and motivation. It continues even after rest and can keep you from your daily activities.
The leading cause of menopause fatigue is the fluctuating estrogen and progesterone hormone levels. When imbalanced, they can affect how your body regulates energy, making you feel tired. Women also experience hot flashes, night sweats, and sleep disorders which can keep them up at night.
At this stage, you may feel like you have an illness because the fatigue completely wears you down. Other symptoms that may accompany menopausal fatigue include:
- Emotional stress
- Brain fog and forgetfulness
- Anxiety or depression
- Lack of enthusiasm
Dealing with unending exhaustion can be challenging and likely to affect your quality of life. One of the best ways to tackle this is to exercise regularly. Physical activity stimulates the endorphins, also known as "feel good" hormones. Regular exercises also improve energy levels and promote quality sleep.
Studies show that moderate-to-high exercise levels can give perimenopausal and menopausal women more energy when resting.
Hot flashes are a symptom of perimenopause and menopause. While their exact cause is still unknown, they are thought to result from changes in the hypothalamus, a section of the brain responsible for regulating temperature. When the hypothalamus detects too much warmth in a woman's body, a chain of events begins to cool her down.
Among them is increased blood flow on the skin surface to dissipate heat. As a result, a red flush appears on the face or neck and is more visible in light-skinned women.
Menopause-related hot flashes are unique to each woman. Some are tolerable, while others are so irritating that you need to consult a physician. Cold flashes may also be a sign of menopause or perimenopause if you are also experiencing other symptoms like the menstrual cycle and mood changes.
For many, the flashes may last for six months to two years, but some experience them considerably longer depending on when they began. It's not uncommon to experience recurrent hot or cold flushes even more than ten years after menopause.
Mainly, the available hot flash treatments only provide relief but do not cure it. They eventually disappear on their own. A few low-risk coping strategies and lifestyle changes, like staying hydrated, could help relieve hot flash symptoms.
Drenching night sweats are very common in women experiencing menopause. They occur when the blood vessels expand, leading to high blood flow on the skin surface. This causes a sudden heat wave to spread throughout the body, causing sweating. Often, night sweats can be so severe that they prevent you from getting restful sleep.
Low or fluctuating estrogen levels are the leading causes of night sweats during menopause. They are usually followed by cold chills and are accompanied by symptoms like vaginal dryness and hot flushes. The severity of these symptoms typically lessens as a woman ages and may go away after some years.
A small proportion of women may experience them for the rest of their lives. The best way to deal with night sweats is to stay hydrated, create a cooler bedroom and choose breathable fabrics. Your diet also matters because some foods and beverages often increase body temperature, worsening night sweats.
Many women experience irregular periods as the first sign of perimenopause. In essence, periods are regulated by progesterone and estrogen hormones. As you approach menopause, their levels decline, affecting how the ovaries release eggs. Your periods start to fluctuate, sometimes coming less than usual or more frequently. They may be lighter or heavier than your normal bleeding. Estrogen is responsible for thickening the uterus lining.
When its levels drop, the lining begins to shed erratically, causing a heavier bleed. It is also possible to experience perimenopause spotting between irregular periods, which should not cause alarm. Sometimes you will experience perimenopause spotting instead of a period, especially if the cycles are too frequent.
The most irritating part about perimenopause periods is the unpredictability. Irregular periods are a common symptom of perimenopause. When they stop for over a year, you’ve entered menopause.
Nonetheless, some practices could relieve symptoms such as heavy perimenopausal bleeding.
For instance, a healthy diet is vital to your overall health and wellbeing. Diets filled with refined sugar and caffeine can exacerbate the problem.
Excess stress can also lead to heavier bleeding during perimenopause. Note that irregular periods can also result from underlying health conditions such as diabetes, so it's essential to seek medical attention if your suspect they are not menopause-related.
You might be thinking: is itching a symptom of menopause?
You might not associate itching with menopause. However, it is a symptom. Usually, low estrogen leads to a drop in collagen production, the protein responsible for maintaining skin elasticity. This makes the skin thinner, dryer, and itchy.
Because the skin is thinner, you may become highly sensitive to products that come into contact with your skin, such as scented soaps and detergents. The sensitivity may worsen the irritation or itching. Those undergoing menopause may experience itching on any part of their body, including the scalp, face, and genitals.
You are more likely to have a dry and itchy vagina during menopause, as the vaginal walls become thinner due to declining estrogen levels. This condition is called vaginitis and is accompanied by symptoms such as
- Vaginal dryness
- Sore or itchy vagina
- Pain during sexual intercourse or when peeing
- Light bleeding or spotting
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Swollen, sore, or cracked skin around your vagina
There are several ways to manage itchy skin during menopause. One is using a ph-balanced moisturizer like the revitalizHER to soften and rejuvenate your intimate tissues and hydrate your skin. You can also encourage collagen production with a red light therapy device like vFit Gold.
Try to use an unperfumed moisturizer once a day or a few times if your skin is too dry. Soaps can dry your skin, so the best time to moisturize is immediately after a bath. Another remedy is to take Vitamin C to improve collagen production, repair the skin and reduce itchiness.
You can get Vitamin C from many fruits and vegetables. It's not stored in the body, so you should consume it daily for best results. Hormone replacement therapy can also help to strengthen your skin and improve hydration. While you might be tempted to scratch your skin, it's best to avoid it as it will increase the urge to itch more and cause damage.
Are headaches a symptom of menopause? Yes, many women experience headaches caused by fluctuating hormones.
Migraines are the most common headaches caused by hormonal imbalance, especially estrogen. A drop in estrogen causes a decline in serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain. Decreasing serotonin levels hinders the functioning of a cranial nerve called the trigeminal. This cascade of events can trigger migraines or headaches.
Fluctuating hormones may be the main culprit of frequent headaches during perimenopause. They begin gradually and progress to a constant severe headache, made worse by light, activity, or sound. Besides hormonal imbalance, there are other triggers of headaches during perimenopause or menopause, such as dehydration, diet, and poor posture.
Our bodies require a proper balance of electrolytes and fluids to function correctly. When you lose fluids from night sweats, urinating, and daily activities, you need to replenish them by eating and drinking fluid-rich foods.
If dehydration happens during menopause, you may experience mild to severe headaches that bring discomfort. The good news is that there are many ways to manage perimenopause and menopause headaches.
One way is to do regular exercises, including walks, swimming, and spinning. Women with severe headaches may seek behavioral therapy. You can also keep a lifestyle diary to understand your headache triggers. If certain foods trigger your headaches, you can cut them off or reduce your intake.
Like headaches, some women ask if vertigo is a symptom of menopause. Vertigo is a feeling of dizziness or spinning, even when you are not in motion. For menopausal women, the dizziness sensation can be a feeling of a balance loss, or you will faint.
It may result from other menopausal symptoms like anxiety which causes rapid heart and breathing rates. This disturbs the blood and oxygen flow in the brain. Hormonal changes can also cause vertigo due to their effect on circulation and blood vessels.
In some cases, vertigo may not be related to menopause but triggered by other medical conditions such as low blood pressure, blood pressure, dehydration, or something else. Some remedies can help to relieve the feeling of dizziness.
- Ensure you are properly hydrated
- If you are anemic, have a natural iron tonic
- Add ginger to your diet to stimulate blood circulation
- Do not stand up too quickly
Moving your head suddenly or jumping up can cause dizziness. As with any health concern, you should consult your physician for diagnosis and treatment.
Mood changes, anxiety, and depression
Is anxiety a symptom of menopause? Anxiety is common in perimenopausal women, and it occurs for several reasons.
It can happen due to hormonal changes. The sex hormones progesterone and estrogen begin to fluctuate as a woman approaches menopause, leading to anxiety or depression. Specifically, estrogen is closely linked to anxiety feelings.
Researchers believe that anxiety gets worse in the morning because cortisol levels are highest in the first hours of waking up. Cortisol is the stress hormone.
Besides hormonal changes, other perimenopausal symptoms such as lack of sleep and hot flashes can drive anxiety. Some women may also develop anxiety or panic attacks due to fear of aging.
While frequent panic attacks are not a usual menopause symptom, it could also be a panic disorder requiring medical attention.
Women who have a history of postpartum depression may be more likely to experience anxiety during menopause. There are several treatment options for perimenopausal anxiety—hormone replacement therapy, psychotherapy, antidepressants, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Many women ask—is hair loss a symptom of menopause? Hair loss does not happen to everyone experiencing menopause, but it's a common symptom. According to one study, over 52% of postmenopausal women experience hair loss.
Menopausal hair loss results from hormonal imbalance specifically reduced progesterone and estrogen levels. These hormones promote faster hair growth while making the hair stay longer in the head. When there is a drop in the levels of the hormones, the hair grows more slowly and becomes thinner.
Other factors that can cause hair loss during menopause include illness, high-stress levels, and nutrient deficiencies. Excessive hair loss can be frustrating and make you feel self-conscious about your physical appearance. You can improve the quality of your hair over time.
Fatty acids also play an essential role in maintaining healthy hair. You can try a balanced, low-fat diet with fruits, whole grains, and vegetables in every meal. Primary sources of fatty acids include:
- Flax seeds
Other effective remedies include reducing stress, staying hydrated, and keeping it natural. Avoid heat tools like hair straightening irons and dryers. Styling methods such as extensions can weaken your hair and lead to hair loss.
One symptom may not indicate menopause. However, if you are between the ages of 40 and 55 and have many of the above symptoms, it is a strong indicator of menopause. Some symptoms may also not be menopause or perimenopause. As with any health issue, talk to your doctor, who will conduct an exam to confirm and help with a treatment plan.