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Menopause symptoms: Physical

Physical symptoms include:

The hot flush, or flash, is well known as the classic menopausal symptom and affects 60–85% of menopausal women. Hot flushes and sweats are called vasomotor symptoms and vary immensely in both their severity and duration; for many women, they occur occasionally and do not cause much distress, but for about 20% they can be severe and can cause significant interference with work, sleep and quality of life. Women are affected by vasomotor symptoms on average for about 2 years but, for about 10%, symptoms can continue for more than 15 years. Hot flushes usually last 3–5 minutes and are thought to be caused by a change in the temperature-controlling part of the brain.Normally, there is a daily pattern of rises and falls in your body temperature, being lowest at about 3am and highest in the early evening. These small changes are not normally noticed, but a menopausal woman may flush with every temperature rise, whether these are normal changes or not – for example, moving between areas of different temperature or having a hot drink – because of a change in the setting of the temperature control centre in your brain; your body thinks that it is overheating even when it isn’t. To try to cool your body down, a variety of chemical reactions cause the blood vessels in the skin to open up, giving the sensation of a rush of heat, and sweat glands release sweat to dissipate heat. It is believed that the changes in various hormone levels that occur around the time of the menopause, lead to the change in the setting of the temperature control centre, but the exact underlying mechanism is still unclear. Other factors that can also cause flushes include being overweight, alcohol, excess caffeine, spicy foods, monosodium glutamate and some medications. Eating a healthy diet and losing weight if necessary can be helpful. Other simple measures that can help include:

Flushes affect every woman differently and, for many, no specific treatments will be required. When flushes are embarrassing, disruptive and affecting your quality of life, then help is available and your doctor will give you an individualised treatment plan – we are all unique! Headaches, palpitations (sensation of heart racing) and dizziness can be associated with vasomotor symptoms. Excess caffeine can worsen palpitations, so take coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks in moderation. Visit the flushes discussion on our Forum to find out how others have coped with flushes.

Insomnia (sleeplessness) or disturbed sleep (leading to tiredness and fatigue), may be partly due to the night sweats, control of which can lead to an improved sleep pattern.
  » Visit our forum and read how other women have dealt with insomnia.
  » Download a magazine article "Tips for improving sleep long-term".
  » See the full article in our magazine online. (desktop version) (mobile version)

Joint aches commonly occur, often affecting neck, wrists, and shoulders but recognition of their possible association to menopause is often lacking. For more information on menopausal joint aches and to find out how others have coped, visit our Forum

Sexual Problems may be caused by vaginal dryness due to low estrogen levels, resulting in discomfort during intercourse. Effective treatments are available. As both men and women get older, interest in sex may decrease but this particularly affects women. Treatment of other menopausal symptoms may indirectly improve libido by improving feelings of well-being and energy levels, e.g. by improving sleep through control of night sweats, but restoring hormone levels can also improve sensation. Relationship problems have an obvious effect on libido, so hormonal treatment may not always be the "magic" solution!

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