How Long Do Menopause Symptoms Last? Do Treatments Help?
Menopause is a natural part of aging for women. But this remarkable time in a woman’s life can cause fear and apprehension. This is in large part due to the physical changes and menopause symptoms that seem to come on all too quickly and fiercely.
Read on to learn more about these menopause symptoms, how long they last and which treatments help relieve them.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause signals the end of your menstrual cycle. It’s usually a normal biological process that women go through when they get older.
Menopause starts once you’ve gone 12 months in a row without menstrual bleeding or spotting. But even before you have any menopause symptoms, your ovaries start to produce less of the female reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone.
These hormones help you menstruate and ovulate as part of your reproductive cycle. Less of them means your ovaries won’t produce more eggs and you can no longer conceive.
When Does Menopause Start?
Many women reach natural menopause somewhere between their mid-40s to mid-50s, with the average age in the United States being 51.
But your genes and lifestyle can also influence when you reach menopause. For instance, women who smoke tend to reach menopause around 2 years earlier than most.
Menopause can also happen when your ovaries are removed or damaged by a disease such as ovarian cancer or uterine cancer. Harsh treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation used to treat cancer can also prompt early menopause symptoms.
How Long Does Menopause Last?
Perimenopause describes the transition period before menopause begins. This usually lasts around 4 to 8 years. It starts when your menstrual cycle starts to shift and ends 1 year after your last menstrual period.
During perimenopause, your menstrual period may be shorter or longer and your menstrual flow may be lighter or heavier than usual. It eventually stops altogether.
Postmenopause starts after you’ve reached menopause. It lasts the rest of your life.
What Are the Symptoms of Menopause?
Menopause symptoms can differ from woman to woman. Some women experience every menopause symptom while others have few to none. For some, these start during perimenopause.
What Does a Hot Flash Feel Like?
Of all the menopause symptoms you may have, hot flashes (or hot flushes) are the most common. As many as 3 out of 4 women have hot flashes.
Your upper body, neck and face get a sudden jolt of heat when a hot flash comes on. This can make your skin look red or flushed.
Your flushed skin can cause you to sweat, oftentimes at night (called night sweats). And you can have cold flashes or chills after your hot flashes subside or by themselves.
What Is Vaginal Atrophy?
Another common menopause symptom is vaginal atrophy — also called atrophic vaginitis. As your estrogen levels drop, the walls of your vagina get thinner and feel dryer and more easily inflamed.
This can cause discomfort or pain, itchiness or a burning feeling in your vagina. Dryness can generate friction when you have sex, making intercourse painful. And thinning can up your risk for vaginal cuts and tears.
Other Perimenopause and Menopause Symptoms
Hormone changes can also cause your:
- Bone mass and density to be reduced, making your bones weaker and more brittle and your height to decrease
- Hair to thin out and skin to feel dry
- Breasts to feel less full
- Mood to shift easily, leaving you feeling irritable, depressed or anxious
- Sleep to be harder to come by, causing issues such as insomnia or feeling very sleepy during waking hours
Not having enough estrogen can also cause your blood vessels to vasoconstrict. When your blood vessels constrict, they become narrower. As a result, your heart has to work harder to pump blood.
Your low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) levels also go up because of the drop in estrogen. All said, these issues can raise your risk of conditions linked with blood vessel health such as:
Does Menopause Cause Weight Gain?
Your weight may fluctuate during peri- and postmenopause. In general, you may notice your:
- Energy levels, endurance and other physical functions wane
- Lean muscle mass decreases while fat mass increases, causing your body composition and shape to change
- Metabolism slows down, causing you to gain weight more easily
What Are the Treatments for Menopause?
Menopause doesn’t require treatment. But various treatments can relieve your menopause symptoms and lower your risk of associated health conditions.
Your doctor may prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help prevent bone loss and relieve menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings. They can also prescribe an estrogen cream for vaginal dryness.
Medicines such as bisphosphonates and denosumab can also help prevent bone loss. In addition, they may recommend supplements such as calcium and vitamin D to help keep your bones strong.
And medicines mainly prescribed for other reasons may also help reduce hot flashes and temper your mood shifts. These include:
- Low-dose antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Antiseizure drug called gabapentin, which is particularly helpful with easing hot flashes when you’re trying to sleep
- High blood pressure medicine called clonidine
How to Increase Sex Drive During Menopause
The decrease in hormones coupled with the stress of menopause symptoms and your changing body can lower your sex drive and make it harder to have an orgasm.
But this doesn’t mean you can no longer be intimate with your partner. What’s more, you can still have great sex.
First, be sure to get enough restful sleep on a routine basis. You may not want to engage in sexual activity if you don’t have the energy to do so.
Next, make time for intimacy. Add it to your regularly scheduled activities, marking it on your calendar if you find that helps.
Before and during sex, let your partner know what you like and don’t like, including what feels good or hurts. This may include spending more time on foreplay to ease discomfort and help you climax. Using a lubricant can also help with dryness and pain during intercourse.
Which Natural Remedies Work Best for Menopause Symptoms?
Many women turn to natural remedies and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to manage menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats.
These include a type of berry used in teas called Schisandra chinensis and plant-based compounds that mimic estrogen in the body called phytoestrogens. Sources of these compounds come from plants such as:
- Black cohosh
- Chaste tree berry
- Licorice root
- Red clover
Some of these approaches may also help with menopause symptoms such as mood swings, mild depression and anxiety. These include acupuncture, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis and herbal supplements such as:
- Bitter orange
- Evening primrose oil
- Grape seed proanthocyanidin extract
- St. John’s wort
Bear in mind that studies to date on these CAM treatments have shown mixed results with some showing they are no better at treating menopausal symptoms than placebo. To be safe, it’s best to check with your doctor before trying natural remedies or CAM treatments. Some of these may have side effects or interact with medicines you already take.
Exercise Therapy for Menopause Symptoms
Exercise can help you feel more balanced at a time when menopause symptoms seem to have control over your body and mind. Staying active can also help you boost your metabolism, keep your bones strong, reduce fat and increase lean muscle.
Lifting weights and brisk walking or running are still tried-and-true ways to release feel-good hormones while you get and stay in shape. But they certainly aren’t the only way.
A few other options you may want to try include:
Movement can leave you feeling uplifted. The key is to choose activities that boost your spirits.
When you engage in activities that bring you joy, you’re more likely to stick with your workouts and feel less like you’re working out and more like you’re simply having loads of fun.
- “Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Menopause” via Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine
- “Efficacy of the Complementary and Alternative Therapies for the Management of Psychological Symptoms of Menopause: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials” via Journal of Menopausal Medicine
- “How Sex Changes After Menopause” via Johns Hopkins Medicine
- “Menopause” via Office on Women’s Health
- “Menopause” via StatPearls [Internet]
- “Menopause 101: A Primer for the Perimenopausal” via North American Menopause Society
- “Vaginal Atrophy” via Mayo Clinic