Understanding menopause symptoms is the first step to treating them. Symptoms can be caused by fluctuating hormones. Your body is giving you clues that will help you find balance again. Your symptoms will guide you throughout your menopausal journey and will continue to change until you reach post menopause.
Document your symptoms and discuss them with your practitioner.
Irregular Periods: At the onset of perimenopause, irregular periods can be the first symptom you notice. Your natural cycle is changing, some months you may ovulate and some months you may not. As a result, irregular periods may occur. Some months your period may be longer or shorter. Discuss your menstrual patterns with your health care provider.
Weight gain: Another early symptom, which is often the hardest to live with, is weight gain. I wish I could say all weight gain could be blamed on menopause; that would just make the experience a little easier to life with. Only some weight can be blamed on our ever-changing hormones. Many of us over the years had less time to exercise and eat properly, and when we enter menopause the effects are unforgiving. Getting back in shape and losing weight may feel like an uphill battle. A commitment to healthy lifestyle changes regarding food intake and exercise is now a necessary step to feeling better. This weight gain is a wake up call. As you gather information and make eating and exercise choices for your plan, you will start seeing and feeling results.
Breast Tenderness: Changing hormones may cause fluid retention in your breasts. Once your hormones are in sync again, you will notice this uncomfortable symptom alleviated. Cut back on caffeine and salt consumption.
Mood Swings: When you are experiencing life changes, whether emotional or physical, getting moody is perfectly understandable. Throw in hot flashes, weight gain, and vaginal dryness, and you wonder why you are moody? During menopause there are also biological reasons you may get moody and irritable. When your ovaries start making less estradoil (the active form of estrogen made in your ovaries) it starts affecting other bodily functions including the estradiol in the brain and that causes a decrease in your endorphin levels (the body’s natural feel-good regulator). When your endorphin levels drop, your brain sends out adrenaline that can increase your heart rate and dilate your blood vessels causing hot flashes and anxiety. This cycle can make the best of us cranky and moody. Then throw in life’s general ups and downs, you are now on a moody roller coaster. Declining estradoil that is fluctuating daily can ensure moods swings in many of us making it difficult to cope with daily challenges. If you are experiencing mood swings, this is a good time to start making time to relax, mediate, get a massage, take yoga, enjoy herbal teas and pamper yourself. Some women with severe mood swings that lead to depression consider taking Serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) a drug that can balance your brain chemicals. Exercise and a healthy diet can also help with moodiness.
Heart Palpitations: If you suspect heart disease or it runs in your family, it is best to have these heart palpitations checked out by your doctor. No one knows for sure why some women suffer from heart palpitations during menopause. It is usually attributed to fluctuating hormones. Discuss this symptom with your practitioner.
Migraine Headaches: If migraine headaches are new to you, or only happened during the first few days of your period or during ovulation, it indicates that you are responding to changing estrogen levels. During perimenopause these fluctuating hormone levels may trigger more migraines than you experienced during a normal cycle. For some women balancing their hormones alleviates migraines. For others, hormone therapy makes it worse. The good news is those migraines that appeared during menopause will probably disappear during post menopause. The medical community is still trying to figure out the connection of female hormones and migraines. Practice relaxation techniques, keep a migraine journal and track your migraine triggers (caffeine, medications, dieting, stress). Discuss treatment options with your doctor.
Memory Lapses: Often short-term memory loss can be experienced during menopause. There are many factors that may affect your memory: stress, age, medications, lack of sleep, and overall health. Ask for support from your loved-ones, so they may nurture you through forgetful moments. Keep your mind stimulated. Use a planner and practice a healthy lifestyle.
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats: The number one symptom that most people associate with menopause is hot flashes. Feeling flush, overcome with perspiration, and dizzy, is no fun. Being disturbed from a good nights sleep with a hot flash (aka night sweats) that sends you to the bathroom to splash cool water on your face and change into a dry nightgown, is no fun either. When your estrogen levels suddenly plunge it can create a hot flash. Being overweight, diabetic, suffering from an under or over-active thyroid, and certain medications can also cause hot flashes. Wear layered clothing and bring a fresh blouse when you leave the house. In the summer, wear a cotton sundress and keep a stylish fan handy in your purse for instant hot flash relief. Discuss this symptom with your practitioner. Often low-dose hormone therapy can bring relief. Practice relaxation techniques, get regular exercise and maintain a healthy weight.
Sleep Problems: If you are experiencing night sweats due to changing hormones, it is no surprise you are not sleeping at night. A sleepless night may bring a day of irritability and mood swings. Non-menopausal sleep problems, such as consuming caffeine or alcohol before bedtime, may also cause sleepless nights. If these sleep problems are caused by menopause symptoms, discuss hormone therapy with your practitioner. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime. Prescription sleep aids can also bring relief. Practice relaxation techniques and eat a healthy diet.
Vaginal Dryness: Intercourse can be painful if you are experiencing vaginal dryness. When your estrogen levels drop, vaginal dryness can occur, your vagina can tear more easily from friction, and the vagina tissues can loose their elasticity and become smaller. Estrogen plumps up the cells in the vaginal wall so they produce more lubrication. Hormone therapy may bring relief. A bioadhesive lubricant, such as AstroGlide that can be purchased over- the- counter, may also bring relief. If vaginal dryness is your only menopause symptom, you may consider using an estrogen cream applied vaginally.
Loss of Libido: If you are experiencing vaginal dryness and sleepless nights it is no wonder you lack interest in sex. Besides the effects of menopause, it is also normal for your libido to decline with age. Between the ages of 55 and 65 sexual activity slows for men and women. Don’t let a decrease in hormone levels blow the flame of desire out of your love life, visit your doctor, take the appropriate tests and discuss hormone treatment options. Certain medications may also contribute to a declining libido: blood pressure, depression, heart disease, or diabetes medications. If you need to treat your relationship, visit a counselor. A healthy sex life is possible during and after menopause.
Skin Changes: There is no escaping the aging process, but during menopause you really start seeing the effects of less estrogen. Your skin is supported by collagen and elastin fibers, which are supported by estrogen. That is why your skin looked so soft and contoured to your face before menopause. For those of you who loved getting a summer suntan, the affects of sun on your skin are damaging, with or without estrogen. Gravity plays a big role here too. After 40 plus years of being on this planet, gravity takes a toll on everyone. What most of us notice during menopause is that the elasticity and firmness of our skin decreases rapidly due to less estrogen production. Wear sunscreen (SPF 15+), exfoliate regularly, practice good skin care, and moisturize daily.
Bladder changes: Just as lower levels of estrogen can affect your skin, it can also change the flexibility of the muscle fibers around the urethra (the tube that lets urine out of the bladder). Age, obesity, family history, and hysterectomy may also contribute to bladder changes. Kegel exercises are a great option to reduce these effects and help firm up your urethra muscle. Just squeeze your vagina muscles and hold them for 10 seconds, then relax and count to 5, then repeat. It is best to do 5 sets 3 times a day. You will see a difference within a month. Also, start wearing a light mini-pad; they are much easier to change than your panties or slacks. You may notice when you balance your hormones this symptom improves. If not, your doctor may suggest medications.
Hair Changes: Almost 50% of women complain of hair changes during menopause. Age, family history, high blood pressure, medications, depression, thyroid disease, stress and hormones can be factors contributing to hair loss or excessive hair growth. You can have thinning hair and you can sprout some hairy growth on your face. For a few rogue hairs or peach fuzz try tweezing, Jolen Hair Bleach (sold at most pharmacies), electrolysis, and waxing works well. If you are suffering from hair loss, Rogaine 2% may bring relief.
The more educated you are about your body’s changes going through menopause, the more you will be able to embrace this transition. Fluctuating hormones, age, genetics and lifestyle can all affect your menopause journey. Empower yourself to take action and manage menopause.