Menopause can be a confusing and distressing time for lots of women and this can be made worse if you’re not sure what you can expect to happen to your body both during and afterwards. One of the big questions that most women have? How long symptoms can last. Once your periods have been absent for more than 12 months and you’re deemed to be in menopause, does that mean that all of your menopause symptoms will go away? Here’s what to expect in the run up to and during the menopause.
What happens to your hormones during menopause?
You’ve probably heard that menopause symptoms are heavily linked to hormone changes but what exactly happens to your hormones during the menopause?
Estrogen is one of the main hormones involved in both reproduction and the menstrual cycle, along with progesterone. As a female, you’re born with eggs in the ovaries, which are released every month as part of the menstrual cycle. Your ovaries also make estrogen and progesterone. Once you reach the menopause, your ovaries no longer need to release eggs and menstruation isn’t required either.
At the same time, you levels of both hormones go down. For most women, this happens in the years leading up to the menopause – known as the perimenopause. The ovaries ultimately stop producing them completely during the menopause itself.
Estrogen doesn’t just have an impact on your monthly cycle; it can also have pretty wide ranging effects for your whole body. Your brain and nervous system are commonly affected, which is why menopause can bring about so many cognitive and physical symptoms from “brain fog” to hot flashes.
This is exaggerated by the fact that your sex hormones aren’t the only hormones to be affected. Your levels of hormones such as serotonin alter too. This can leave you feeling tired, irritable and prone to mood swings.
Do menopause symptoms disappear when periods stop?
If you’re not one of the lucky women who sail through menopause with very minor symptoms, you’ll no doubt be desperate to find out how long you can expect to have symptoms for after you’re officially in menopause.
There’s no easy answer to this as it can vary from woman to woman. For many women, symptoms are more intense during the perimenopause and start to tail off once you reach the menopause and are considered to be “postmenopausal”.
That’s not always the case though and some menopause symptoms can continue for quite a while after your periods stop, including hot flashes and mood swings. This is due to low estrogen levels, which drop further between the perimenopause and the menopause and can mean that these symptoms get worse when you hit the menopause.
On average, postmenopausal symptoms can last for 4-5 years. The good news? However long they last, they’re not usually as intense as before so they’re likely to have less of an impact on your life compared to the perimenopause.
Generally speaking, a “sudden” menopause (that is brought on by surgery, for example) can lead to more severe menopause symptoms, compared to a natural menopause that involves hormone changes occurring more gradually.
What can happen post menopause?
Even after symptoms die down completely, there are a few risk factors that can develop after menopause, largely due to lack of estrogen:
After the menopause, you can be at greater risk of developing heart disease as a result of falling estrogen levels. This makes it super important to follow a heart healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, and to exercise regularly. Being more likely to store fat around your abdomen can also increase your risk factor for heart disease (and other conditions such as type 2 diabetes).
Bone density can also be a problem when you reach the menopause. Getting your bone density checked fairly regularly can help to spot early warning signs of osteoporosis. According to studies, as much as a fifth of bone loss can happen in the five years following the menopause. Estrogen is heavily linked to stronger bones and bone density can become weaker once estrogen levels drop. Getting plenty of calcium in your diet is an absolute must for helping to keep your bones strong and healthy after the menopause. Vitamin D is also needed for healthy bones and you may want to talk to your doctor about supplementing if you don’t get much from your diet and don’t spend much time outdoors in sunlight.
It’s scary to think that the menopause can affect your heart and bones but luckily, there’s quite a bit you can do from a lifestyle perspective to keep yourself healthy.