There are numerous symptoms associated with menopause, and some women breeze through it without noticing much of a difference, while a few others feel their world has come to an end, and it need not be so. The goal of this article is to provide you with accurate information so you will educate yourself as well as understand your symptoms making you better equipped to make informed decisions concerning your health.
I will list as many of the possible symptoms associated with menopause that I know so that when you find yourself experiencing any of them you will not think they are more ominous than they are. Remember, it is highly unlikely that you will have all the symptoms listed below, but they are worthy of note.
Hot flashes a sudden feeling of heat either in the upper portion of your body or all over. You may feel sweaty or flushed as if you have electrical cables burning in you. Hot flashes can happen even when the weather is cold and every other person is cold. The severity of a hot flash can range from mild to unyielding, even waking you from sleep; it can last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes, but they lessen in intensity over time.
Vaginal Dryness and Pain with Intercourse
Loss of the thin layer of moisture that coats the vaginal walls results in itching around the vulva as well as stinging or burning sensation. Dryness of the vagina causes painful sex as well as vaginal bleeding.
Menopause might make it difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep; it might wake up earlier than you wish and give you trouble going to back to sleep, try relaxation and breathing techniques.
Frequent Urination and Urinary Incontinence
Loss of stretch of the lining of the vagina, urethra and the surrounding pelvic muscles causes these structures to weaken. The weakness causes the frequent urge to use the toilet. Urinary incontinence causes urine to drop when you don’t get to the bathroom on time, when you cough, sneeze or exercise.
Urinary Tract Infections
Lowered levels of oestrogen and changes in the urinary tract make it more susceptible to infection.
Vaginal atrophy is caused by the decline in oestrogen production and characterised by the thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls.
Depression, Mood Swings and Irritability
Irritability is a persisting “bad/mood” marked by feelings of stress, reduced patience and tolerance, and lashing out in anger or frustration over matters that may seem trivial to others. Many menopausal women also feel irritable or “on the edge” a lot of the time due to the added stresses of other symptoms such as hot flashes and sleep disorders. Irritability, depression and mood swings, often going from extreme highs to severe lows in a short period. If this affects your work and activity of daily living, please see your doctor.
Skin, Hair, and Other Tissue Changes
Reduced oestrogen may contribute to hair loss or cause your hair to feel brittle and dry. As you age, you also lose some fatty tissue and collagen; these will make your skin drier and thinner and will affect the elasticity and lubrication of the skin near your vagina and urinary tract.
Pain in the breast, soreness, or breast tenderness in one or both breasts are all symptoms of hormonal changes, and can occur during pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause. See your doctor if you find a lump or if pain is unbearable.
Changes in Body Odour
Body odour can be due to an increase in sweat production and hot flashes, even while maintaining a good personal hygiene regimen.
Symptoms include but not limited to excessive gas production, gastrointestinal cramping, irritable bowel syndrome and nausea. These could be due to reduced gut muscle tone which will disrupt the natural transit of food in the gut, triggering indigestion, nausea, diarrhoea or constipation. Gut problems could also be due to a change in diet or even lactose intolerance, due to the decreasing production of the digestive hormone lactase with age. Gut health can also be affected by the stress of menopause.
Weight gain and bloating: The stress linked to menopause raises levels of cortisol, which encourages fat deposits around the abdomen. With age, your body produces less bile; fats are not well digested leading to flatulence.
Bleeding gums and taste changes
The most typical of the gum problems experienced in menopause is inflammation and bleeding of the gums. If gum problems are left untreated, they can lead to tooth loss, infections, and heart disease, thus complicating health and general wellbeing, so it is important to have good oral hygiene and seek treatment for gum problems in menopause.
Oestrogen is necessary for the lubrication of mucous membranes, such as those in the mouth. Lower levels mean the mouth becomes drier, allowing bacteria to flourish, causing tooth decay and making your gums bleed. Dry mouth can damage the taste buds on your tongue, setting off the pain nerve cells, causing bad breath, bad taste or a burning sensation on the tongue.
Allergies: Women below 40 years have fewer allergies than menopausal women particularly asthma, hay fever and dermatitis.
Muscles, especially the ones in the neck, shoulders, and back, feel stiff, tight or strained; these cause a general increase in aches, pains, soreness, and stiffness throughout the body. Low oestrogen levels lead to a rise in the stress hormone cortisol. Continued high levels of cortisol cause the muscles in the body to tighten and become fatigued. Women who eat right, exercise regularly are fit and healthy and are thus less prone to muscle tension.
Itchy, Crawly Skin
Collagen responsible for keeping skin toned, fresh-looking, and resilient, its production slows down with ageing. So the skin gets thinner, drier, flakier, and less youthful-looking. Skin dryness leads to itchy skin, a frustrating symptom that can disrupt both sleep and wake hours in our lives.
The effect likely causes tingling extremities in menopausal women are low oestrogen levels on the central nervous system. Tingling extremities are characterised by a feeling of burning sensation or like an insect sting, pins and needle sensation or super-sensitivity in the hands, arms, legs, and feet.
The tingling is harmless most times and usually occurs due to a pinched nerve or compressed artery, which reduces blood flow through the extremity causing it to “fall asleep”. However, tingling extremities can also be a symptom of vitamin deficiency, anxiety, poor blood circulation, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or a tumour. Seek immediate medical attention for unexplained tingling that affects one side of the body or tingling that is associated muscle weakness.
Irregular heartbeat is one of the more concerning menopause symptoms. One of the causes of sudden onset of bouts of pounding and rapid heartbeat during menopause is a hormonal imbalance. Other causes of these symptoms are stress, anxiety, and panic disorder and should be assessed before considering a treatment option. Other triggers of irregular heartbeat include caffeine and nicotine.
A variety of nail changes occur during menopause the most common being brittle nails, or nails that are softer, or that crack, split, or break horizontally across the top of the nail, convex or spoon-like nails, ridges in the nail plate, and infection of the nail bed and cuticle.
Causes include a nutritional deficiency or hormonal imbalance. Low oestrogen levels cause dehydration in the body, leading to dryness of the skin, hair, and nails. Persistently painful or swollen fingernails or toenails require the attention of a doctor.
Osteoporosis is a disease of ageing, worse in women than men. The features of osteoporosis are thinning and weakening of the bone, a general decrease in bone mass and density. Oestrogen is involved in the process of calcium absorption into the bones; thus, a drop in oestrogen levels leads to an accelerated reduction in bone density. Usually, bones go through a process whereby old bone is replaced with new bone cells, but the body’s ability to handle this process changes with age. By around age 35, there is less bone growth than there is bone removal. That is why we advise individual exercises and dietary supplementation begins from age 30 years. Reduced bone density means that bones are much more susceptible to breaks and fractures.
Joint pain is an unexplained soreness in muscles and joints, which is unrelated to trauma or exercise, but may be related to decreased levels of oestrogen, mobility, the range of motion and flexibility of the joints. Do not ignore these aches and pains, simple lifestyle modifications and physiotherapy can stop or decrease the intensity of the pain as well as prevent its progression to arthritis.
Brain fog: Forgetting things, poor concentration and inability to find the right words can all be linked to the drop in oestrogen. Not only does the brain need oestrogen to help it function, but it also encourages blood flow to the brain. Stress, night sweats and poor sleep can further affect focus.
Other problems associated with menopause are:
Loss of memory and concentration, headaches, night sweats, loss of breast fullness, reduced muscle mass, weight gain, slowed metabolism, ringing in the ears (known medically as tinnitus), fatigue, dizziness, light-headedness, episodes of loss of balance, exacerbation of existing conditions and loss of libido.
This long list is for your information, not meant to scare you and the good news is that most of these symptoms can be managed using simple lifestyle modifications.
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Wishing you good health and happiness,