Next month I will be 41 and like any woman my age, no matter how young you look you are starting to feel your age. One of the things women of my age range and older will inevitably face is Menopause. I wanted to bring awareness to anyone starting this natural process as well as anyone between here and then. There is nothing we can do to stop it so we might as well be prepared and informed of what’s to come.
About 70% of women approaching menopause are affected by menopausal symptoms. Most common, and one I deal with regularly, are hot flashes or night sweats. They are caused by changing hormonal levels in the female reproductive system. Almost all women notice early symptoms while still having periods. This stage of wacky dropping hormone levels is called perimenopause, which often begins in the early 40s.
Symptoms of menopause usually last for the whole menopause transition (until the mid 50s), but for some women it may last for the rest of their lives. Other common symptoms are: irregular periods, decrease in sex drive, and vaginal dryness. Lucky for us there are a variety of treatments that can be considered to deal with these symptoms.
Hot Flashes, Flushes and/or Cold Flashes – About 75 to 85% of American women are estimated to get hot flashes when they’re in menopause. Hot flashes, or how I like to call them, “personal summers” can be felt like a sudden, sensation of warmth or heat that spreads over the body creating a flushing (redness) particularly noticeable on the face and upper body. Whether your own hot flashes are experienced as delicate flushes or full on hotness, don’t worry they’re normal. They are the result of a decrease in estrogen supply and not all women experience hot flashes, but more than half do.
Night Sweats – Night sweats is the night –time cousin of hot flashes, but more intense. Night sweats, which is also known as “nocturnal hyperhydrosis”, isn’t actually a sleep disorder, but is a common perspiration disorder that occurs during sleep.
Irregular Periods – Where did my period go? This is something I’ve been experiencing. Missing, short, irregular periods. The most common cause is hormone imbalance. Your periods may come more often, or they may come later than they used to. Your period might be light and last only a few days, then the next month bleed heavily. Your period might be shorter or go on for what feels like forever. You may skip a month, then go back to normal for several months, then skip two periods in a row. This menstrual hokey pokey is most common in the mid forties as you approach menopause (or in my case now). A lack of hormonal balance or a decrease in estrogen production is the main cause of it. There can be medical causes for irregular periods as well, they aren’t as common though.
Decrease in Sex Drive – Sex therapists say that a decrease in your sex drive becomes a problem that should be addressed only when it is perceived as a problem. Like when people feel there’s something wrong with them because they have a low level of desire. Everyone goes through ups and downs in sexual desire that can be caused by any of a variety of factors.
Vaginal Dryness – It’s basically a loss of the moistness of the lining of vaginal area which may be associated with itching and irritation. When your estrogen levels drop, your vaginal tissues start drying and become less elastic. Sex becomes uncomfortable, you may be more prone to infections, your vagina is frequently itchy and easily irritated, and, on the emotional side, you may feel older. Vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy occur when your estrogen levels drop. As estrogen levels go down, your vaginal walls get thinner and lose some of their elasticity. Your vagina becomes dryer and takes longer to become lubricated. Finally, it may atrophy — becoming smaller in width and length. This symptom may appear due to a sudden drop in estrogen. It’s a very unpleasant menopause symptom to say the least. Thank God for personal lubricants! They really help and are available for you and your partner.
Mood Swings, Sudden Tears – A moody person is like a human roller coaster. One minute you’re up, the next minute you’re down. The mood swings can be intense, sudden and out of control. This too can be treated. You should contact your doctor to get more advice. In the meantime, try some yoga, long aromatic baths, herbal teas and some general “me” time.
Fatigue – Fatigue, one of the most common menopause symptoms, definition; an ongoing and persistent feeling of weakness, tiredness, and lowered energy level. This is very different from drowsiness, which implies an actual urge to sleep. Fatigue involves lack of energy rather than sleepiness. Other characteristics may include apathy, irritability, and decreased attention. Try to get between 8 and 9 hours of sleep daily. Exercising regularly and eating right help as well.
Hair Loss or Thinning, Head, Pubic, or Whole Body; Increase in Facial Hair – Connected to estrogen deficiency, since the hair follicles need estrogen; some women notice this before any other sign because it is obvious. Hair loss can be sudden or gradual loss or thinning of hair on your head or on other parts of your body. There’ll be hair in your brush, your hair might get drier and more brittle or notice a thinning or loss of pubic hair. A gradual loss or thinning of hair without any accompanying symptoms is common.
Menopause Sleep Disorders (With or Without Night Sweats) – If you’re waking up a lot at night, tossing and turning, and generally suffering with insomnia, it might be connected with menopause. When you begin going through menopause, you may find that your sleep is less and less restful, when you sleep at all. You might think “how can anyone get any sleep with the night sweats?” recent studies indicate that you can also have problems with sleep that aren’t connected to hot flashes or night sweats. Typically, the frequency of insomnia doubles from the amount you may have had before you entered premature menopause. Research also indicates that women begin to experience restless sleep as many as five to seven years before entering menopause. Herbal supplements and teas can help with this as well as getting regular exercise.
Concentrating, Disorientation, Mental Confusion (Fuzzy Brain) – During early menopause, many women are troubled to find they have difficulty remembering things, experience mental blocks or have trouble concentrating. Not getting enough sleep or having sleep disrupted can contribute to memory and concentration problems. Learn to relax darlings. Practice stress-reduction techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, yoga and try to be physically active on a regular basis.
Disturbing Memory Lapses – Women approaching menopause often complain of memory loss and an inability to concentrate. Misplaced car keys, skipped appointments, and forgotten birthdays, but these memory lapses are a normal symptom of menopause. It is mostly associated with low levels of estrogen and with high stress levels.
Dizziness, Light Headedness, Episodes of Loss of Balance – Dizziness is a spinning sensation and/or a feeling of lightheadedness or unsteadiness; also, the inability to maintain balance upon standing or walking. Dizziness is a symptom of many medical conditions. There are things that people can do to cope with their dizziness. Ask your doctor for more advice.
Weight Gain during Menopause – Weight gain, especially in your waistline, is another sign of changing hormones. Books and doctors claim that menopause has nothing to do with weight gain, that weight gain occurs in menopausal women because they’re older and their metabolism is slowing down, other studies do indicate that hormone levels are tied to weight gain and redistribution of fat. Changes in diet and exercise can help speed up your body’s metabolism. Also trying natural alternative supplements may help.
Weak bladder, especially upon Sneezing, Laughing, Urge Incontinence – Incontinence falls into three main categories, although people can leak through because of a combination of causes. First, there’s stress incontinence, in which you urinate accidentally when you laugh, cough, sneeze or exert yourself (um yeah). The second one is urge incontinence, in which the bladder develops a “mind of its own,” contracting and emptying whenever full despite an individual’s conscious efforts to resist. And last, overflow incontinence, in which you completely lose the sensation that you have to go. You should see your doctor if you urinate when you shouldn’t, because you have no sensation that your bladder is full.
Bloating – A puffy bloated feeling that seems to come out of nowhere; usually you’ll notice periodic increases in fluid retention and a puffy belly (pillow belly…smh).
Increase in Allergies – Many types of allergies have their basis in hormone reactions. Hormone imbalance is a type of allergic reaction experienced by women from before puberty to old age. It is a heightened reaction to the normal function of hormones.
Changes in Fingernails– the condition of your nails may change due to the fluctuation in hormonal levels, particularly estrogen.
Changes in Body Odor – As if hot flashes and night sweats weren´t enough in and of themselves, changes in body odor that occur as a result of these menopausal symptoms can lead to embarrassment, dejection, and anxiety in social situations. Good thing, once the root cause of these changes in body odor is understood, it is possible to control them and sashay with confidence once again.
Bouts of Rapid Heart Beat – A pounding, racing heart is the second most common complaint associated with perimenopause. These are known to scare a lot of women because they happen suddenly and unexpectedly and it seems as if there is no way to stop them. This happens to me all the time and it makes me feel anxious and uncomfortable. This partially accounts for the sleeping issues during perimenopause. This pounding can mean something other than perimenopause, so it’s very important for a woman who is experiencing this symptom to report it to her doctor. At onset of this I stop what I’m doing, relax and take deep breaths and then it’ll pass there are times it beats so hard it makes my head hurt. If you are in bed when this occurs, change your position and do some deep breathing.
Depression – Feelings of sadness can be normal, appropriate and even necessary during life’s setbacks or losses. Or you may feel blue or unhappy for short periods of time without reason or warning, which also is normal and ordinary. Depression, or irritability, which is a significant change in mood for an extended period of time associated with loss of interest in usual activities, sleep and eating disorders, and withdrawal from family and friends. Depression can happen to anyone of any age. Women are two to three times more likely than men to suffer from depression. Many women first experience symptoms of depression during their 20s and 30s.
Anxiety, Feeling Ill at Ease – Anxiety can be a vague or intense feeling caused by physical or psychological conditions. Feeling agitated and emotionally out of control may be associated with panic attacks and physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and palpitations. How often anxiety occurs can range from a one-time event to recurring episodes. Early diagnosis may aid early recovery, prevent the disorder from becoming worse and possibly from developing into depression.
Irritability – A change in mood or irritability is a normal part of being human, but irritability also can go hand in hand with almost any illness. Very often, people who are falling ill will become irritable but don’t know why.
Panic Disorder, Feelings of Dread, Apprehension, Doom – A significant and debilitating emotional state characterized by overwhelming fear and anxiety. These feelings can be vague or intense caused by physical or psychological conditions. The frequency can range from a one-time event to recurring episodes. If your life is totally disrupted by this symptom, better contact your doctor.
Breast Pain – Pain, soreness, or tenderness in one or both breasts often precedes or accompanies menstrual periods but can also occur during pregnancy, breast-feeding, and menopause.
Headaches during Menopause – During the early stages of menopause, you may find that you’re getting more and worse headaches. This is often caused by your dropping estrogen levels.
Aching, Sore Joints, Muscles and Tendons – Aching Joints and muscle problems is one of the most common symptoms of menopause. It is thought that more than half of all postmenopausal women experience varying degrees of joint pain. It is not wise to ignore these aches and pains. Early treatment can often bring about a cure and prevent further development of arthritis. Getting plenty of rest, using herbal aids, eating nutritious foods, preferably organic food, fruits and vegetables-and avoiding known toxins and stimulants, are healthy strategies for fighting joint pains.
Burning Tongue, Burning Roof of Mouth, Bad Taste in Mouth, Change in Breath Odor – Burning mouth syndrome is a complex, vexing condition in which a burning pain occurs on your tongue or lips, or over widespread areas involving your whole mouth without visible signs of irritation. The disorder has long been associated with a variety of other conditions, including menopause.
Electric Shock Sensation Under the Skin And In The Head – A peculiar “electric” sensation, or the feeling of a rubber band snapping in the layer of tissue between skin and muscle, that may be related to the effect of fluctuating estrogen levels on nerve tissue. It can also be the precursor to a hot flash.
Digestive Problems, Gastrointestinal Distress, Indigestion, Flatulence, Gas Pain, Nausea – A certain amount of flatulence is perfectly natural, but people who switch to a healthy diet sometimes worry unnecessarily that they’re producing too much. So if you’re eating lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, which means a healthy diet, it’s likely that your digestive system is churning out a healthy amount of gas. If you have gas and stomach or abdominal pain for more than three days, or if the pain is more severe than before, you should see your doctor immediately.
Gum Problems, Increased Bleeding – The most common gum problem is bleeding, and it’s a sign of inflamed gums, or what dentists call gingivitis. Bleeding and sore gums are the same as most health problems: If you catch them before they get too bad, they’re easy to reverse.
Increased Tension in Muscles – There are some things you can do to try to keep symptoms to a minimum: Exercise helps boost endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, so it may help improve moods and has been found to significantly reduce many physical and psychological PMS symptoms. Next time you have a build-up of tension or anxiety, try to run it off.
Itchy, Crawly Skin – When your estrogen levels drop, the rate in which your body produces collagen usually slows down as well. Collagen is responsible for keeping our skin toned, fresh-looking, resilient and youthful. So when you start running low on collagen, it shows in your skin. It gets thinner, drier, flakier, less youthful-looking. This is another of those pesky symptoms of menopause that makes you feel older before your time. You may look a little older than you used to. Collagen loss is most rapid at the beginning of menopause. It is possible that premature menopause also leads to more rapid collagen loss.
Tingling Extremities – This may feel like the “creepy-crawlies” as if bugs were walking all over you, a burning sensation like an insect sting, or just super-sensitivity. In most cases, tingling is harmless. It usually occurs after you pinch a nerve or press on an artery and reduce blood flow in your arm or leg causing it to “fall asleep.” When you change body position and relieve the compression, the tingling quickly goes away. Any unexplained tingling that affects an entire side of your body or is accompanied by muscle weakness, warrants immediate medical attention.
Osteoporosis (After Several Years) – Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disorder where there is thinning and weakening of the bone, and a general decrease in the bone mass and density. Menopause affects your bones. During the menopause your estrogen levels drop. Estrogen is involved in the process of calcium absorption into the bones. All women will experience acceleration in bone density reduction as their estrogen levels drop.
Stay tuned for Part 2