Menopausal symptoms: individual women, individual experiences, but you are not alone

Common symptoms, with different intensities

Menopause is linked to strong hormonal changes in women’s bodies, often leading to symptoms. The symptoms may start before menopause, in the perimenopausal period, and may last many years after menopause5, in the postmenopausal period.

According to several studies, up to 9 women out of 10 experience symptoms, and about 50% of them report bothersome symptoms1,8. The nature of symptoms may vary significantly from one racial group to another, from one culture to another, and from one woman to another.


Physical symptoms*

Among the most common menopause symptoms are 1:

  • Hot flushes (~ 9 women in 10)
  • Night sweats (~ 6 women in 10)
  • Sleep disturbance (~ 6 women in 10)
  • Vaginal dryness (3–4 women in 10)
  • Sexual dysfunction (1–2 women in 10)
  • Mental impact

The list above is by no means exhaustive. Other common symptoms include difficulties in concentrating, memory loss, joint pain, or several symptoms at the same time1,6. During menopause, women may also experience hypertension and increased cholesterol7. In the case of repeated symptoms, it is necessary to contact a healthcare professional, receive a diagnosis, and establish a care plan.

The severity of the symptoms, or the perception of them, may also vary in women depending on their age, occupation, and diet. Interestingly, the picture is very different in Asian cultures (such as Japan), where women experience fewer hot flushes than their Western counterparts but suffer more from headaches and chillness, while in Nigeria – joint pain2. Researchers speculate that the fewer hot flushes in Japanese women might result, in part, from the high intake of soy, a rich source of phytoestrogens, in the traditional Japanese diet2.

Indeed, hot flushes appear during menopause when estrogen levels decrease and affect women’s body temperature control mechanisms: It is as if a thermostat has a narrower range of temperature changes it can tolerate, so that our bodies try to ‘cool down’ by having a hot flush in response to small changes in our bodies and in our surroundings that previously would have gone unnoticed3. Thus, getting increased levels of estrogen from food might help compensate for the estrogen lost because of menopause.

Each woman will experience physical symptoms, their duration, and their intensity in her own way. Science suggests that differences in lifestyle, number of children, diet, physical activity, and race may influence the way menopausal syndrome affects a woman’s life2,8. Everyone has her own individual story, but all need the care they deserve as they go through this phase.


Cognitive disorders

Aside from purely physical disorders, women may also suffer from cognitive disorders. When estrogen levels decline during menopause, brain activity might be affected. This results in memory loss, lower ability to concentrate, feeling lost in familiar situations, and many other symptoms6.

Furthermore, physical symptoms may affect cognitive abilities. For instance, the prolonged sleep deprivation and night sweats commonly experienced during menopause can lead to prolonged fatigue, which may affect well-being and performance abilities. This may result in vicious circle of anxiety, that sustains the sleeplessness3. The unpredictability of hot flushes and the inability to control them can affect self-confidence, possibly leading to increased anxiety.

A woman suffering from these symptoms should not keep them to herself but talk around her and consult a doctor. Solutions, both medical and lifestyle, exist (links to articles 4, 5, 6). Contact a healthcare professional, who will help you establish a healthcare plan. Do not let the menopausal symptoms overwhelm you and negatively impact your life.


*Please note that there are strong differences in menopausal symptoms among the regions.

Percentage of women suffering from specific menopause symptoms per region8:

  • Sleeping disorders:
    • Africa (84%)
    • Europe (73%)
    • South America (56%)
    • Asia (49%)
    • North America (45%)
    • Australia (23%)
  • Sexual dysfunction:
    • Australia (87%)
    • South America (78%)
    • Europe (68%)
    • Asia (57%)
    • Africa (49%)
    • North America (33%)
  • Depressive disorders:
    • Africa (81%)
    • South America (73%)
    • Asia (66%); Europe (59%)
    • North America (34%)
    • Australia (25%)
  • Flushing:
    • Africa (77%)
    • Asia (58%)
    • South America (53%)
    • North America (46%)
    • Europe (37%)
    • Australia (33%)
  • Myalgia / Arthralgia:
    • Africa (84%)
    • South America (75%)
    • North America (75%)
    • Asia (50%)
    • Europe (31%)
    • Australia (25%)



Reference:
1. Constantine G. et al. Behaviors and attitudes influencing treatment decisions for menopausal symptoms in five European countries. Post Reprod Health., 2016; 22(3):112-122.
2. Avis N-E., Crawford S., Cultural Differences in Symptoms and Attitudes toward Menopause, Menopause Management, https://www.menopausemgmt.com/cultural-differences-in-symptoms-and-attitudes-toward-menopause/, Published 2007. Accessed 18 October 2020
3. Hunter M, Smith M. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for menopausal symptoms. Information for women, Post Reprod Health. 2017; 23(2):77-82.
4. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); Wellbeing during menopause,  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279310/, Published 2020. Accessed 18 October 2020
5. NHS UK. Menopause – Symptoms. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/symptoms/. Published 2020. Accessed 18 October 2020
6. Henderson V. Cognitive changes after menopause: influence of estrogen. Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2008;51(3):618-626.
7. Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Take control of rising cholesterol at menopause, https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/take-control-of-rising-cholesterol-at-menopause, Published 2020. Accessed 30 October 2020
8. Makara-Studzińśka MT, Kryś-Noszczyk KM, Jakiel G. Epidemiology of the symptoms of menopause – an intercontinental review. Prz Menopauzalny. 2014;13(3):203-11.

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