It would be an understatement to say your body goes through a lot during menopause. Although no longer getting periods is something to celebrate, the symptoms that menopause (and perimenopause) brings aren’t a walk in the park.
We’ve gathered all of the information you need, plus what treatments you can turn to during this time to help you navigate the tricky symptoms.
What is menopause?
Menopause refers to the period during a woman's life when she stops getting periods; the end of her menstrual cycle. It can begin between 45 and 55 years old .
The first stage of menopause is known as perimenopause and can happen from 40, anything before then is known as early or premature menopause .
In Western society, the average age of natural menopause is 51 and it can last anywhere from 7-14 years . Menopause is officially confirmed 12 months after your last period, but symptoms are often experienced well before then.
During the stages of menopause, the ovaries get smaller by about 30%, and the body produces less oestrogen . So, it’s no wonder you’re likely to have plenty of symptoms!
What are the symptoms of menopause?
Symptoms of menopause vary drastically from person to person, but there are a number of common ones.
Changes to your menstrual cycle
Starting with the most obvious here, if you notice changes in your period it could be a sign you’re entering menopause. You'll begin to experience things like missing periods or periods that are shorter and lighter in flow until they eventually stop altogether.
This is probably the one you’ve heard the most about, hot flashes (medically known as vasomotor symptoms). That’s because it’s thought that more than 80% of women experience hot flashes during peri and post-menopause .
Although they don’t sound like a big deal, they can be tough to live with and can make daily life more tricky particularly when coupled with dizziness.
Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
One common symptom of menopause is trouble sleeping, which can be incredibly disruptive to daily life.
The reason for this is twofold: the changes in your hormones can have a profound impact on your regular sleep cycle . In addition, hot flashes can also happen at night giving you night sweats, which can keep you awake.
One of the more severe indications of menopause is hair loss. We’ll get more detailed on the specifics later but it’s due to — yep you guessed it — hormone fluctuations, which can essentially cause an imbalance.
Vaginal dryness is medically known as atrophic vaginitis and can be extremely bothersome. Not only does it interfere with intimate life but also everyday activities.
This is a symptom that tends to need treatment and doesn’t get better over time.
Changes in mood
Changes in mood and mood swings are common during menopause. Specifically, anxiety and depression, which can increase during menopause, even if you’ve never experienced those thoughts or feelings before.
A study from 2016 found that women were 2-4 times more likely to experience a depressive episode during menopause .
We told you that there were a lot of symptoms, but it's important to know that you probably won't experience all of them. What you experience will differ from that of your family and friends and some women have more severe symptoms than others.
It’s all about being aware of them so you feel empowered to speak to a medical professional to get the help you need. The main takeaway? Don’t suffer from menopause symptoms alone, there’s lots of help out there.
Can menopause cause hair loss?
As mentioned briefly, hair shedding is another of those symptoms during menopause. Turns out, it’s pretty common, too. A 2022 study found that 52% of women over the age of 50 experienced female pattern hair loss .
The 2 most common types of menopause hair loss are female pattern hair loss (androgenic alopecia) and telogen effluvium.
The former occurs due to a drop in hormones, specifically oestrogen and progesterone, which are responsible for healthy hair growth.
This decrease in hormones can cause the hair follicles to shrink and as a result, you can experience hair thinning and a weakening of the hair follicles. Having said that, the knowledge still isn’t solid. There’s definitely more research to be done to look into causes.
During menopause, hair follicles shrink and the main stages of hair growth are compromised, too. Healthy hair growth includes 4 cycles: anagen (growth phase), catagen (transition phase), telogen (resting) and exogen (shedding). Hair loss occurs when the resting and shedding phase is prolonged and the hair-growing phase is shortened.
The latter is also caused by changing hormones but can also be brought on by stress and isn’t permanent. It’s no surprise that lots of women experience TE during this time when so many changes are happening.
A 2013 study found that telogen effluvium and an iron deficiency in pre-menopause were linked . But, more research needs to be looked into this to find out whether the connection is scientifically strong.
It’s important to note that family history, other medical, and diet and lifestyle can also be factors that contribute to shedding and thinning hair.
Common symptoms of hair loss during menopause
Most women will experience shedding and thinning versus baldness when it comes to menopause hair loss.
This will most likely become noticeable when you're brushing your hair or washing your hair in the shower. Anything more than 100 hairs over the course of a few weeks is considered significant hair loss or thinning.
In addition, you might notice things like your ponytail feeling thinner or the hair at the front near your forehead appearing thin. You might also notice that you can see your scalp a little more when you put it into a parting.
How can I stop losing hair during menopause?
The good news is, menopause hair loss can be managed well, especially if detected and treated early. In women, female pattern hair loss is typically more thinning than the baldness that men experience.
There are a few things you can do to promote healthy hair growth during menopause, including:
- Manage stress
- Eat a varied, healthy diet, making sure you’re getting plenty of greens
- Keep hydrated
- Keep on top of regular exercise
- Limit chemical hair processing and colour and heat damage to hair
- Avoid tight or restrictive hairstyles like tight buns
- Be gentle when shampooing; though make sure you don’t stop shampooing altogether, you still need to regularly wash your hair
Frustratingly, stress can make overall hair loss worse, so while you might be feeling panicked, the best advice we can give is to seek professional assistance as soon as you can, so that you feel in control of the situation.
Is menopausal hair loss reversible?
So, when it comes to reversing hair loss, it can be tricky. It really depends on what the exact cause of the thinning hair is. It's easier to restore hair growth (and thus reverse) in some people than in others.
But, the great news is that if your hair loss is caused by menopause, and more specifically a hormone imbalance, then it can be reversible.
This is because, with the right treatment plan, hormones can be stabilised and healthy hair growth can resume. Hormone replacement therapy can help a huge number of menopausal symptoms and restore hormonal balance.
How to treat dry hair during menopause
Due to the changes in hormones, you might also find that your hair is drier than normal alongside experiencing female pattern hair loss.
This is because oestrogen is responsible for creating the scalp's natural oils (sebum) so when that’s decreased, you have brittle hair, which is also more prone to breakage than before.
This means you'll need to switch up your routine to cater for this new-found dryness. Choose moisture-boosting products, keep on top of regular trims and keep thermal and chemical damage to a minimum.
How to treat menopause-related hair loss
The first step in treating menopause-related hair loss due to menopause is to address the hormonal imbalance causing the hair loss, thinning and shedding. Expert hair treatments address every stage of hair regrowth to prevent hair breakage while helping to fix hair breakage simultaneously.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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