Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. Typically, to define menopause, a woman will not have had a period for 12 consecutive months; it usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. However, it can happen earlier or later than this.
There are many menopause symptoms, and some of them can be hard to deal with. In addition, some of these symptoms may be surprising — so you may not even realise they are linked to menopause.
In this blog post, we will explore 10 surprising symptoms of menopause and provide tips on how to manage them.
Menopause can bring a range of symptoms that can vary in severity and duration. While some women may experience mild symptoms, others may have more severe ones that can significantly impact their lives.
1. Vaginal dryness
Vaginal dryness is quite a common menopause symptom and occurs when your body decreases its production of oestrogen. This reduction then leads to less natural lubrication in your vaginal area.
This symptom can cause dryness, itching, burning and even pain during sexual activity. The leading cause of vaginal dryness is the drop in oestrogen levels. Medical science also shows that these low oestrogen levels can be caused by breastfeeding, cancer treatments, certain medications and smoking.
You can manage vaginal dryness, with the simplest and most effective approach being a water-based vaginal lubricant or moisturiser. Make sure you choose a product that is designed for vaginal use and that does not contain harsh ingredients or perfumes that irritate.
You might want to discuss hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or other medical treatments with your doctor.
2. Mood swings
Mood swings are a common symptom of menopause and can include sudden, intense changes in mood, including irritability, anger, anxiety and depression. These mood swings can disrupt daily life, affecting work, relationships and overall wellbeing.
Changes in hormone levels during menopause are the principal cause of mood swings. Oestrogen plays a crucial role in regulating your mood, and as levels of this hormone decrease, you may experience emotional instability and mood swings. Other factors contributing to mood swings during menopause include stress, lack of sleep and other life changes.
While mood swings can be tricky, you can do things to manage them. One way is to reduce stress levels by exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. Relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga can also help.
Sometimes you may need medical treatment, such as HRT or antidepressants, if your mood swings severely impact you.
3. Sleep disturbances
Many women experience problems with their sleep when going through menopause.
These issues can include difficulty falling asleep, struggling to stay asleep and waking up too early — disturbances that can impact your overall wellbeing. The result is often fatigue, mood changes and difficulty concentrating during the day.
The main cause of sleep disturbances during menopause is fluctuating hormone levels, particularly oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones play a leading role in regulating sleep, and as levels fluctuate, your sleep patterns can change. Other factors that can contribute to sleep disturbances during menopause include stress and anxiety.
A great way to manage the last symptoms is to create a regular sleep routine that includes going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. This can help to regulate your internal body clock and promote better sleep. You can also try relaxation techniques, avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening, and keep your room nice and cool.
If you cannot improve your sleep no matter what you try, speak with your doctor as you may need medical treatment.
4. Hair loss
Hair loss or thinning is common during menopause and can have a significant impact on your self-esteem. Hair loss during menopause is typically caused by changes in your hormone levels. Oestrogen and progesterone manage your hair growth cycles, so when they change, it can cause your hair to alter in thickness, texture and strength.
To try and effectively manage your hair loss, eat a well-balanced diet that incorporates foods rich in iron, protein and vitamins B and D. These can help to promote hair growth and potentially prevent further loss. Try to avoid styling your hair with heat and using harsh chemicals, such as dyes and bleach, as these can cause more damage.
If your hair loss is really getting you down, then speak with your doctor. They can sometimes prescribe medications to try and combat hair loss caused by menopause.
5. Brain fog
Brain fog, also known as cognitive dysfunction, is a common symptom of menopause. Brain fog occurs because of the changes to your oestrogen and progesterone levels — these hormones typically help to regulate your brain function.
Symptoms of brain fog can include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss
These changes can be distressing and affect your ability to work, socialise and perform everyday tasks.
To try and manage your brain fog, you should get enough sleep, exercise regularly and eat a nutritious diet. You can also try using memory aids and boosting your mental activity with brain games or puzzles.
6. Joint pain
Joint pain can develop during menopause and cause stiffness and swelling in your hands, wrists and knees. This symptom can make it hard for you to go about your daily life, so trying to manage it is important.
The main cause of joint pain is the drop of oestrogen in your body. Low levels of oestrogen may also put you at risk of developing osteoarthritis. Other factors that can contribute to joint pain include ageing and weight gain.
There are some things you can do to ease joint pain. Heat or cold therapies, such as ice packs or hot water bottles, and painkillers (such as ibuprofen or paracetamol) can help. Regular joint-friendly exercise (like walking, cycling or swimming) and can also help to keep your joints strong and healthy.
If you find that joint pain is stopping you from doing the things you love, or even keeping you awake at night, speak to your doctor to see what they can do to help. If your joint pain is due to menopause, HRT may be suggested to restore your oestrogen levels and alleviate your pain.
7. Urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence can be a distressing symptom of menopause. This involuntary release of urine can be mild or severe and is caused by a number of different things.
The main cause of urinary incontinence during menopause is the decline in oestrogen levels. Oestrogen plays a key role in maintaining the health of the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder and urethra. As oestrogen levels decline, these muscles can weaken, leading to urinary incontinence.
There are different types of urinary incontinence, including stress incontinence (when urine leaks out during physical activity or exertion) and urge incontinence (when there is a sudden urge to urinate followed by an involuntary loss of urine).
Fortunately, you can manage urinary incontinence in several ways. One effective approach is to practise pelvic floor exercises, which can help to strengthen the muscles that support the bladder and urethra.
Other strategies that can be helpful include reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, managing your weight and using absorbent pads or protective garments.
For some people, medical treatment might be the best option. Your doctor might recommend HRT to try and improve your symptoms, or refer you to a specialist for other medications or even surgery.
8. Irregular periods
Having irregular periods is a common symptom before the menopause and is one of the earliest signs that you are approaching it. Although healthcare professionals define menopause as not having a period for 12 months, the complete transition can take several years and includes irregular periods.
During menopause, your ovaries produce less oestrogen, which alters your menstrual cycle. As a result, your periods may become shorter or longer, lighter or heavier and change frequency.
While irregular periods can be a typical part of the menopause transition, it's essential to speak to your doctor if you experience any unusual bleeding, such as heavy bleeding or bleeding between periods. They can help to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing irregular periods.
In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend hormonal treatments such as HRT or contraceptive pills to help regulate the menstrual cycle. They can help you determine if these treatments are appropriate for you based on your medical history.
9. Hot flushes
With hot flushes, you suddenly feel warm or ‘flushed’ for no apparent reason. Some women may notice their skin turns red, have an increased heart rate and feel dizzy or anxious.
A shift in hormone levels that changes your temperature regulation within your body causes hot flushes.
While hot flushes can be uncomfortable, several strategies can help manage them. Dressing in light layers you can take off, avoiding triggers like alcohol and spicy food, using a fan or cooling spray can all help, but sometimes HRT can work best as it boosts your oestrogen and progesterone levels.
10. Night sweats
Some women experience night sweats when going through menopause. This symptom can cause excessive sweating during the night, leading to damp clothing and bedding. You may also experience a rapid heartbeat, chills and anxiety when they occur.
Changes in hormone levels that happen during menopause as your ovaries begin to produce less oestrogen and progesterone cause night sweats. In addition, sweating can change your body’s temperature regulation system.
While night sweats can be uncomfortable and disruptive to sleep, you can do several things to manage them. You can also adjust your sleep environment to manage night sweats more effectively. For example, try using breathable bedding materials, wearing lightweight and moisture-wicking sleepwear and turning on a fan or air conditioning to keep your bedroom cool and well-ventilated.
Menopause and sex drive
Menopause can have a significant impact on your sex drive due to the changes in hormone levels. The decline in oestrogen levels can lead to a decrease in vaginal lubrication, vaginal atrophy and thinning of the vaginal walls. These changes can cause discomfort during sex, making it difficult for you to enjoy.
In addition to physical changes, menopause can lead to emotional changes that affect sex drive. Examples include mood swings, anxiety and depression, which can all impact your desire for sex.
However, menopause doesn’t have to mean the end of a healthy sex life. Here are some tips for maintaining sexual health during menopause:
- Communicate with your partner – Talk openly about any changes you are experiencing and what you need to feel comfortable and satisfied during sex.
- Practice self-care – Engage in activities that promote overall health, such as exercise, healthy eating, and stress management to boost libido.
- Use lubrication – Water-based lubricants help alleviate vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex.
- Try different positions – Experiment with different sexual positions to find what feels comfortable and pleasurable.
- Consider hormone therapy – Hormone therapy may help alleviate symptoms of menopause, including vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex.
Menopause and mental health
Menopause can have a significant impact on your mental health. The fluctuation of hormones during menopause can lead to a range of emotional and psychological symptoms, including mood swings, anxiety and depression.
If you are experiencing problems with your mental health during menopause, here are some tips you can try to help manage your symptoms:
- Talk to your doctor – Your doctor may recommend medications or other treatments to help manage your symptoms.
- Prioritise yourself – Taking care of yourself is essential. This includes a healthy diet, regular exercise and enough sleep.
- Connect with others – Talking to friends and family about your feelings can be helpful. You can also consider joining a support group for women going through menopause.
- Try relaxation techniques – Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
- Seek professional help – If you struggle to manage your symptoms, consider seeing a mental health professional. A therapist or counsellor can provide support and guidance as you navigate this challenging time.
Remember, it is essential to care for your mental health during menopause. With the proper support and resources, you can manage your symptoms and get your life back on track.
Some women prefer to manage their menopause symptoms naturally, without using HRT. Some natural remedies that may help can include:
- Soy – Soy contains compounds called isoflavones, which are similar in structure to oestrogen. Consuming soy may help alleviate hot flushes and other menopause symptoms.
- Black cohosh – This herb has been used for centuries to treat various ailments, including menopause symptoms.
- Flaxseed – Flaxseed is rich in lignans, plant compounds that may have oestrogen-like effects on the body.
- Exercise – Regular exercise can help alleviate several menopause symptoms, including hot flushes, mood swings and sleep disturbances. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week.
The jury is still out on whether some natural remedies have enough evidence to recommend them, so speak to your doctor to see if they might work for you.
Hormone replacement therapy
HRT involves taking oestrogen and sometimes progesterone to replace the hormones that the ovaries no longer produce during menopause. HRT can be an effective way to alleviate menopause symptoms.
There are different types of HRT, including oestrogen-only therapy and combination therapy (oestrogen plus progesterone). Your doctor can help you decide which type is right for you.
HRT is usually recommended for the shortest possible time to alleviate menopause symptoms. Studies have linked HRT to an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and blood clots; however, these risks depend on the type of HRT, how long you take it for, and any other medical issues you might have.
If you’re not a candidate for HRT or prefer not to take it, other medications and natural remedies may help alleviate menopause symptoms. Talk to your doctor about your options.
Book a consultation at The McIndoe Centre
Menopause is a natural and inevitable transition that affects every woman differently, and seeking professional advice and support can markedly improve your quality of life during this time.
At The McIndoe Centre, our experienced and compassionate team can help you navigate the physical and emotional changes of menopause. We offer a range of treatment options tailored to your individual needs, including hormone replacement therapy and natural remedies.
Don’t hesitate to book a consultation with us today and take the first step towards managing your menopause symptoms.
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