The menopause can cause a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms. The first symptom is usually a change in the pattern of your monthly periods.
The start of the menopause is known as the perimenopausal stage. During this time, you may have light or heavy periods.
The frequency of your periods may also be affected. You may have a period every two-three weeks, or you may not have one for months at a time.
Other menopausal symptoms include:
If you experience the menopause suddenly rather than gradually, your symptoms may be worse.
Your symptoms will usually last for two-five years before disappearing, although in some cases they can last longer. Vaginal symptoms, such as dryness, can sometimes persist and get worse as you get older.
Hot flushes and night sweats
A hot flush is a sudden feeling of heat in your upper body, which can start in your face, neck or chest, before spreading upwards and downwards.
The skin on your face, neck and chest may become red and patchy and you may start to sweat. You may also feel a change in your heart rate. It may become very rapid, or it may be irregular and stronger than usual (palpitations).
Hot flushes that occur at night are called night sweats. Most hot flushes only last a few minutes and they are most common in the first year after your final period.
Many menopausal women have trouble sleeping due to night sweats, but sleep disturbances may also occur as a result of anxiety.
You may find that a lack of sleep makes you irritable and that you have problems with your short-term memory and ability to concentrate.
During the time leading up to the menopause, you may experience vaginal dryness, itching or discomfort. This can make sex difficult or painful (dyspareunia). These symptoms combined are known as vaginal atrophy.
About a third of women experience the symptoms of vaginal atrophy shortly after the menopause, with slightly more women having them later on. In some cases, vaginal atrophy can persist for more than 10 years after your final period.
If you have vaginal symptoms, it is likely that they will continue or get worse over time unless they are treated.
During the menopause, you are more likely to experience recurrent lower urinary tract infections, such as cystitis. You may also feel an urgent and frequent need to pass urine.