What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, “menopause symptoms?” If you’re like most of us, you immediately think of hot flashes (and perhaps vaginal dryness).
But what some women don’t realize is that there are actually 34 reported symptoms of menopause! And most of these don’t get talked about nearly enough.
FemmePharma sat down with Dr. Heather Hirsch, an OB-GYN menopause specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, to uncover some of these oft-overlooked yet common symptoms and help us better understand what’s happening in our bodies during this phase of our lives.
Most common yet overlooked menopause symptoms
Not being able to sleep is one of the most common yet unacknowledged symptoms of menopause. Starting during perimenopause, our levels of progesterone – a calming and sleep-inducing hormone – begin to drop. This can cause the classic symptom of insomnia – not being able to fall asleep. This drop in progesterone may also contribute to that mind-racing anxiety that tends to keep us up at night. A sleep aid, like Mia Vita Sleep may help you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.
In addition to not being able to fall asleep, we may also experience being unable to fall back asleep, or “tossing and turning” after waking up in the middle of the night – a symptom caused by fluctuations in estrogen levels.
Pretty soon, we start to anticipate this anxiety and inability to sleep and we fear the act of going to bed, which creates a vicious cycle of anxiety, followed by insomnia, followed by more anxiety.
This brings us to our next commonly overlooked symptom.
Anxiety and panic attacks
Women may experience an increase in anxiety – or even panic attacks – during menopause and perimenopause. The research isn’t clear as to why this occurs. Theories include reproductive hormonal changes, an increase in catecholamines (a stress response), and significant midlife or environmental changes.
Because panic attacks tend to mimic cardiovascular symptoms – such as chest pain, breathlessness, and a pounding heart – some women may think they’re having a heart attack.
There are, however, differences between cardiovascular-related symptoms and those of panic that you can look for.
For instance, the pain felt during a heart attack tends to be dull, while panic attack chest pain may be more prolonged. In addition, your oxygen levels will stay normal during a panic attack (even though you may feel out of breath), but they tend to decrease if related to cardiovascular issues.
That said, if these symptoms concern you, see your healthcare provider to get checked out. Once you’ve ruled out heart conditions, here are some things you can do to control your symptoms and break the cycle of anxiety:
- Practice deep breathing techniques.
- Apply pressure to your wrist or neck.
- Practice meditation.
These techniques can help lower your stress response and decrease your heart rate.
Joint aches and pains
Aching and painful joints are another common but not always acknowledged symptom of menopause. This is due to a decline in hyaluronic acid and collagen, which is a function of – you guessed it! – a decrease in estrogen levels. Since estrogen receptors support our joints, any stiffness or pain you feel may be attributed to this.
Joint pain often improves with hormone replacement therapy. But if this isn’t for you, you might consider taking supplements, such as the Mia Vita Hyaluronic Acid supplement. It’s also important to keep moving to reduce stiffness. Consider trying low-impact exercises to improve mobility, such as swimming or biking.
Despite the assumption that breast tenderness is a result of PMS during the reproductive years, it can also occur during perimenopause or menopause. Again, this is likely due to hormonal changes. However, if you’re concerned about musculoskeletal issues or other concerns, we recommend contacting your healthcare practitioner to rule out potential malignancies.
Feeling wonky rhythms in our heartbeats can be frightening, but it’s actually something that’s fairly common during perimenopause. Hormone volatility during this stage affects the AV node in our heart, which causes those irregular rhythms you’re hearing. Though it’s important to rule out other medical conditions, if you’re generally healthy, this is likely another menopausal symptom.
Skin changes and new allergies
Finally, you may notice changes in the texture of your skin during this time – decreased elasticity due to collagen loss, but also rashes, adult acne, or rosacea – the latter three the result of increased testosterone or other hormonal fluctuations.
Hopefully you understand a bit more about the changes that can occur during your body during perimenopause and menopause. With your newfound awareness of these symptoms, you may be tempted to do a full lab workup. Consult your healthcare practitioner to see if these tests are necessary, and if so, which may be best for your unique bodily concerns.