From hot flashes to mood swings, fear of menopause symptoms alone is enough to cause anxiety. But there’s another aspect of falling hormones that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves: pain and its many forms that can come along with it.
There are plenty of resources, products, and supportive communities (like this one!) to help women over 40 feel healthy and well. Let’s take a look at some of the most painful aspects of menopause — from sex that hurts to pounding headaches — and what you can do for relief.
1. Painful sex
Vaginal dryness is among the most common menopause symptoms, with 50 percent to 60 percent of postmenopausal women experiencing it. Vaginal dryness — and overall dry skin — results from declining estrogen. Your vagina also stretches less during this time, which doesn’t help either. As a result, sex can be very painful. 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 vaginal dryness is treatable. A vaginal moisturizer with hyaluronic acid can go a long way in relieving painful sex during menopause. Staying physically active will help increase blood flow, positively impacting your sex life. And staying sexually active helps too, as it helps maintain blood flow and keeps vaginal tissue healthy.
If painful sex is causing you anxiety (and why wouldn’t it?) talk to your doctor.
2. Period cramps
Perimenopause can make you feel like a teenager again — and not in a good way. As 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 cramping.
There are several ways to treat intense period cramps during menopause. A heating pad or hot water bottle may become your new best friend — lie 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. Finally, if your cramps are severe and at-home remedies aren’t helping, talk to your doctor about solutions. He or she may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications or even a low-dose birth control pill to help regulate your periods and relieve pain.
3. Depression and anxiety
Not all women talk about the mood changes, irritability, anxiety, or depression they experience during perimenopause, but it’s fairly common. About 70 percent of women report increased irritability as they approach menopause, 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 menopausal mood swings, as are those with a history of clinical depression.
For 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. The group also recommends participating in activities you enjoy and giving yourself enough time to feel better. Finally, the organization recommends postponing 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. Joint pain
There does appear to be a connection between menopause and joint pain. Estrogen helps reduce inflammation, so as the hormone declines, you may notice more pain in your knees, shoulders, elbows, neck, or hands. Rheumatoid arthritis (which impacts 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 joint pain, because menopausal women — with or without rheumatoid arthritis — are more likely to develop osteoporosis. Your doctor can check your bone density to make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D, and he or she may prescribe you something to help boost bone density.
Menopause can impact the occurrence of migraines, but that experience can be different for every woman. Migraines — or moderate to severe throbbing pain, 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 to trigger migraines, even if you’ve never had them before. Women who have had their uteruses and ovaries surgically removed often encounter more migraines than women who go through menopause naturally.
To prevent migraines associated with menopause, eat meals at regular times and have a consistent bedtime and wakeup time each day. Reduce stress and stay hydrated. There are also a number of prescription and OTC drugs to help prevent and treat migraines, so talk to your doctor about the options that may be right for you.