“The most common symptoms are hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, difficulty sleeping, low mood or anxiety, reduced sex drive (libido) and problems with memory and concentration,” says Dr David Edwards, a GP and specialist in female sexual dysfunction. “For some women, these symptoms may continue for up to 15 years.”
As your oestrogen declines, alongside other contributory factors, the thermostat in your brain malfunctions so that it thinks your body is overheating when it isn't. “This leads your brain to switch on cooling down mechanisms such as sweating and blood flow through skin blood vessels (flush) to dissipate heat,” says Dr Currie, founder of Menopause Matters and an associate specialist gynaecologist and obstetrician at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary. “How these feel varies, as does the severity, duration and frequency of the hot flush.”
Hot flushes can also be associated with headaches and palpitations; with approximately 85 per cent of women being affected in some way by these early onset symptoms, they can feel hard to manage or adapt to.
Simple steps, like wearing loose layers of cotton clothing, rather than man-made fibres, and having a fan in your bedroom can help. Excess caffeine can worsen palpitations, so drink coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks in moderation.
Declining levels of oestrogen and progesterone can also have a drastic impact on your sleep. Oestrogen is important for managing the level of magnesium in the body. This is a chemical which allows your muscles to relax, so low levels make it more difficult to fall asleep.
There are a range of sleep disruptions that may affect you, including hot flushes, mood disorders, insomnia and sleep-disordered breathing. Sleep problems can be very disruptive, may lead to daytime drowsiness, and are often accompanied by anxiety or depression. They may also cause you to have trouble concentrating during the day.
If you feel your sleep problems are related to flushes and sweats, keep your room well ventilated or use a fan in your bedroom. Make sure you have a regular bedtime schedule, which should include going to bed at the same time every night. Avoid taking phones, or other technology into the bedroom, and avoid caffeine after mid-afternoon.
If you find your mood is affected, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) may help. Exercise is an alternative method of lifting your mood. If you find yourself suffering from mood swings, visit your GP and discuss your symptoms. Alternatively, join a forum, such as on Menopause Matters, to get advice from other women.