Even though pregnancy signals an increase--and menopause results from a decrease--in hormones, they result in a few similar symptoms. Most women of child-bearing age will not stop to think that their symptoms might mean menopause. However, many pre-menopausal women assume they can no longer become pregnant, and while the chances are low, it is still possible. In either case, it’s important to receive an assessment from your physician.
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Causes of Symptoms
The symptoms of pregnancy are caused by changes in hormones and blood circulation. Within two weeks of conception, the levels of estrogen and progesterone increase to support the pregnancy. Placental circulation begins as soon as a fertilized egg attaches to the uterus and by 13 days after ovulation, the embryo begins to develop blood and blood vessels. The mother’s heart rate and blood volume increase to accommodate the fetus.
The symptoms of menopause are the result of fluctuating, decreasing and finally the loss of hormones. Estrogen is produced primarily by the egg-producing follicles in the ovaries. As menopause approaches, the amount of hormone fluctuates as eggs mature irregularly. There is a dramatic drop in estrogen when the follicles stop functioning and ovulation ceases.
Change in Menstruation
The most obvious symptom of both pregnancy and menopause is that menstruation stops. In early pregnancy women may experience some bleeding when the fertilized egg implants into the uterus, followed by either a scanty period or no period at the normal time in the cycle. As a woman approaches menopause, her periods often change before stopping completely, but a variety of changes are considered to be normal. Periods may become irregular, and they can range from shorter to longer and heavier to lighter.
Fatique, Mood Swings and Headaches
Other symptoms shared by pregnancy and menopause include fatigue, headaches and mood swings. In early pregnancy, fatigue can be triggered by an increase in progesterone plus the increasing blood supply to support the baby. Fluctuating hormones and disrupted sleep work together in menopause to cause fatigue. Many women have more headaches when they become pregnant. According to Dr. Roger Harms at the Mayo Clinic, about 1 to 2 percent of women experience their first migraine during pregnancy. During menopause, headaches may increase or decrease. In addition to hormonal and physical changes, increased stress related to approaching life changes can lead to mood swings.
Unique to Pregnancy
Pregnancy has several symptoms that are different from menopause. Nausea, swollen or tender breasts and food aversions are due to hormonal changes. Dizziness is a symptom caused by circulatory changes and/or fatigue. Dizziness can sometimes be prevented by getting up slowly after sitting or lying down, and by not standing for a long period of time.
Unique to Menopause
Symptoms that are typical only during menopause include hot flashes or night sweats, loss of hair, vaginal dryness and difficulty sleeping. Loss of estrogen affects the part of the brain responsible for controlling appetite, sleep cycles and body temperature. According to the Mayo Clinic, as many as 3 out of 4 women experience hot flashes when low hormones make the brain believe the body is too hot. The body goes into action to cool down—heart rate goes up, blood vessels in the skin dilate, sweat glands go into action—and the result is a hot flash.