Lesser Known Menopause Symptoms
You always knew menopause would happen. You may have even looked forward to getting rid of those bulky pads, contraceptive devices, and tampons you’ve been using. You expected some hot flashes and maybe a few cranky days, but assumed those probably wouldn’t be much worse than getting through a long summer heat wave and then it would be all over. What you possibly didn’t know is that there are countless other symptoms that science is constantly learning about regarding the menopausal process.
If you’re between the ages of 40 and 65 — and in some cases even a bit younger — you may be suffering with those very symptoms right now. Your body begins to change several years before menopause actually takes place, during the period known as perimenopause. This is the time when periods start to become irregular, along with some other unwelcome physical and emotional developments that you never anticipated.
What are Some of the Lesser Known Symptoms of Menopause?
Menopause comes with many minor and major changes. Some women manage to get through the process with only a little discomfort. Others may be slammed with multiple symptoms, many of which occur gradually over time so that they may not even notice that they’re happening, or that one may be linked to the other.
Most menopausal changes are caused by the decline of three hormones; estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Progesterone and estrogen, produced by the ovaries, not only prepare a woman for reproduction during her childbearing years, but they impact the rest of her body’s health, both physically and emotionally. During menopause, the adrenal glands continue to produce testosterone, but those levels also decrease with age.
Some of the most common symptoms of menopause are:
- Hot flashes and night sweats: Periods of intense heat course throughout the body, raising skin temperature. During sleep, excess perspiration may require the need to get up and change clothing or even bedding.
- Mood swings: Depleting estrogen affects the production of the mood-regulating neurotransmitters of dopamine, and Mood swings can include euphoria, deep depression, panic disorder, and anxiety attacks.
- Vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy: As estrogen decreases, so does the body’s natural lubrication. The vagina can become drier, thinner, less elastic, irritated, and itchy. Sex and stimulation may become painful, lowering arousal and libido.
- Complete menstrual cessation: After a full year of missed periods, ovaries reduce in size, terminating fertility, egg production, and pregnancy possibilities.
The following menopausal symptoms are not as common, but are also usually caused by the same hormonal shifts:
- Forgetfulness, confusion, loss of focus, and difficulty concentrating: Decrease of estrogen and progesterone can provoke cortisol levels into becoming erratic, resulting in ‘brain fog’ and slower cognitive skill function.
- Bloating: During perimenopause and early menopause, flagging hormones can create bloating. This often disappears when levels permanently stabilize.
- Sleep problems: Dwindling hormones can trigger sleep disturbances such as interrupted rest, insomnia, waking up too early, or sleeping too long.
- Burning tongue: This condition, simulates a fiery sensation in the mouth and tongue in about 40% of menopausal women. It can create a metallic taste, dryness, soreness, and tingling and is believed to be activated by a drop in estrogen.
- Urinary and fecal incontinence or frequent urination: Significant changes to pelvic muscles damaged or weakened during childbirth, or waning estrogen can prompt more bathroom visits.
- Thinning or loss of hair and brittle nails: Increase in androgens (male hormones) spur shrinkage in hair follicles. Bald patches, thinning, and undesirable ‘peach fuzz’ may develop, along with dry, brittle cracked nails.
- Digestive problems: Constipation, indigestion, and gas can be attributed to cortisol levels affected by hormone reduction.
- Headaches or migraines: If women experienced headaches before and during menstruation, this may continue throughout perimenopause and menopause. These often decrease or completely disappear after menopause.
- Weight gain: Estrogen loss prompts fat redistribution to the abdomen, buttocks, thighs, and hips, resulting in that dreaded ‘middle age spread’.
- Dizziness: Hormone fluctuations can disrupt efficient body and organ function, including the inner ear’s ability to provide balance, accounting for menopausal dizzy spells.
- Increase in allergies: Ebbing hormones during menopause can accelerate histamine production, introducing new allergies or magnifying old ones.
- Itchy skin, rash: Lubrication lost through lowered estrogen can spread throughout the body, contributing to dry skin, chafing from fabrics, and unpleasant reactions to soap and perfumes.
- Breast sensitivity and pain (mastalgia): Hormonal spikes cause fluid buildup in the breasts, resulting in tenderness, swelling, and
- Arthritis, joint, bone, and muscle aches: Estrogen minimizes inflammation. Loss of it intensifies aches, pains, stiffness, and
- Irregular heartbeat and palpitations: Precipitated by hot flashes, these frightening sensations cause many women concern that they may be getting heart disease. Usually, this is not the case
- Electric shocks: Often, these precursors to hot flashes radiate from areas on the head or extremities. It is theorized that these mild to severe jolts of pain can be ascribed to hormonal imbalances affecting the hypothalamus, or to neurons misfiring in the nervous system. Medical intervention is often necessary.
- Change in body odor: Urinary or fecal odors arising from incontinence, pungent perspiration scents from hot flashes and night sweats, hormonal fluctuations affecting the thyroid’s impact on vaginal PH, producing a ‘fishy’ odor which can cause noticeable, unpleasant smells.
- Tingling sensation throughout the body (paresthesia): Sensations like prickling, stinging, ‘pins and needles’, ‘crawling’ feelings, or numbness are experienced and are linked to the lubrication lost through estrogen drop.
- Voice changes: As estrogen and progesterone diminish and testosterone rises, hoarseness, lowered pitch, and vocal fatigue after speaking too long are often overlooked menopausal symptoms.
Hormonal changes during menopause can contribute to several serious conditions in women, including:
- Diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes can be life-threatening. Estrogen and progesterone dictate your cells’ insulin behavior. Disrupted hormonal balances weaken that message, leading to blood sugar level chaos, and then diabetes. Complications such as heart attack and stroke may follow.
- High cholesterol: Waning estrogen boosts harmful LDL cholesterol and decreases good HDL cholesterol, inviting a fatty buildup in the arteries. This can lead to stroke and heart attack.
- High blood pressure (hypertension): Plummeting hormones weaken the body’s resistance to several dangerous health risks, including those of salt and the rapid rise of a woman’s body mass index (BMI).
- Irregular heartbeat (arterial fibrillation): Moderate symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, weakness, and shortness of breath. More severe cases can develop into blockages which can trigger stroke, heart disease, and even death.
- Osteoporosis: Bones become thinner, fragile, and more brittle from lack of estrogen and can lead to fractures and breakage.
How Can Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists Help?
Many menopausal symptoms are of little concern and often correct themselves given time. Others can be easily remedied through diet, exercise, hormone therapy, and/or other medications. However, all unusual symptoms that arise should always be assessed by a physician to rule out other causes.
Our broad-based practice consists of three board-certified, doubly-accredited urogynecologists who hold certification in OB-GYN and Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery (FPMRS). Our staff also includes obstetricians, gynecologists, nutritionists, nurses, surgeons, medical assistants, experts in holistic medicine and diet, and other specialists who, combined, have decades of accumulated expertise in the unique field of women’s health care.
To schedule an appointment regarding your menopausal symptoms, call 770.720.7733.