From hot flashes to mood swings, the fear of menopause symptoms alone is enough to cause anxiety. But there’s another aspect of menopause that doesn’t always get attention: the many forms of pain that can come along with it.
The good news is that it’s 2019, and painful menopause doesn’t have to be something that we fear. There are plenty of resources, products, and supportive communities (like this one!) to help menopausal women live their best lives. Let’s take a look at some of the most painful aspects of menopause and what you can do to combat them.
1. What can I do about painful sex during menopause?
Vaginal dryness is one of the most common menopause symptoms, with about 50-60% of post-menopausal women experiencing it. Vaginal dryness – and overall skin dryness – happens as a result of the decline of estrogen at the onset of menopause, making skin thinner and dryer. Your vagina also stretches less during this time period, which doesn’t help either. As a result, vaginal dryness can lead to very painful sex. And once sex becomes painful, it’s natural to become stressed or anxious just thinking about it, leading to a lack of interest in sex or even depression. It’s a vicious cycle.
But there’s hope: vaginal dryness is highly treatable. A vaginal moisturizer with hyaluronic acid can go a long way in relieving painful sex during menopause. Staying physically active with will help increase blood flow, positively impacting your sex life. And staying sexually active helps too, as it helps maintain that healthy blood flow and keeps your vaginal tissue healthy. If painful sex is causing you anxiety (and, really, why wouldn’t it?) talk to your doctor about your options. Anxiety and depression are common among menopausal women.
2. Is it true that my period cramps can get worse before menopause?
Yes. The onset of menopause can make you feel like a teenager again, and not always in a good way. As your body changes and estrogen begins to decline, it’s normal to experience changes to your period. You might notice a heavier or lighter flow than usual, or your period may become erratic. Many women experience pain that they haven’t had before, like breast tenderness or more painful cramping.
Luckily, there are several ways to treat intense period cramps during menopause. A heating pad or hot water bottle may become your new best friend – lay down with it for 20 minutes or until it cools. Be sure to stay hydrated during this time too. Consider OTC medications like Midol or ibuprofen to dispel cramps. Finally, if your cramps are severe and at-home remedies aren’t helping, talk to your doctor about solutions. They may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications or even a low dose of birth control medication to help regulate your periods and relieve pain.
3. What about emotional pain, or menopause mood swings?
Not all women talk about the mood changes, irritability, anxiety, and/or depression they experience during menopause, but it’s fairly common. About 70% of women report increased irritability during perimenopause, so you’re not alone if you find yourself content one minute and enraged the next. Women who had severe PMS when they were younger are more likely to experience menopause mood swings, and so are those with a history of clinical depression.
So what can you do? For menopause mood swings, Menopause.org recommends breaking large tasks into small ones and setting priorities if you’re faced with a seemingly endless to-do list. They also recommend participating in activities you enjoy and giving yourself enough time to feel better. Finally, they recommend postponing any important decisions until your mood has lifted.
Of course, if you find yourself with persistent feelings of sadness and depression, talk to your doctor ASAP about treatment options.
4. Can menopause cause joint pain?
There does appear to be a connection between menopause and joint pain. Estrogen helps reduce inflammation. So as it declines, you may notice more pain in your knees, shoulders, elbows, neck, or hands. Rheumatoid arthritis (which happens to impact three times more women than it does men) often gets worse around the time of menopause too. It’s important to see your doctor if you’re experiencing pain because menopausal women – with or without rheumatoid arthritis – are more likely to develop osteoporosis. Your doctor can check your bone density levels to make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D, and they may prescribe you something to help boost your bone density.
5. Is there such a thing as menopause migraines?
Menopause can impact the occurrence of migraines, but that experience can be different for every woman. Migraines – or the moderate to severe throbbing, typically in one side of the head – are often triggered by physical activity and can worsen with exposure to light and noise. If you’ve had migraines in the past that were linked to the hormonal fluctuations of your menstrual cycle, menopause may make your migraines less severe – they can even disappear entirely. But it’s also possible for those same hormonal fluctuations during menopause to trigger migraines, even if you’ve never had them before. Women who have had their uterus and ovaries removed often encounter more migraines than women who go through menopause naturally.
To treat menopause migraines, WebMD recommends keeping a food diary to help you identify and track and any foods that are triggering migraines. You should also eat meals at regular times each day, and have consistent bedtimes and wake-up times each day. Reducing stress can also go a long way in lessening the severity of menopause migraines. There are a number of prescription and OTC drugs to help prevent and treat migraines once they’ve started, so talk to your doctor about the options that are right for you.
Menopause doesn’t have to be painful
With so many options for prevention and treatment out there, menopause pain doesn’t have to slow us down. Use these tips to help address and alleviate the pain you experience during menopause. If your pain is severe, talk to your doctor about the options that are right for you.