The symptoms of menopause are enough to make a grown woman cry. From hot flashes to mood swings to weight gain, you might feel like you are trapped in someone else’s body. To make matters worse, menopause is often accompanied by other life upheavals, such as the kids going off to college and leaving you with an empty (and hot!) nest. Rest assured, you can combat these common symptoms of menopause and perimenopause with your sanity and sexuality intact.
“Up-and-down emotions prior to and during menopause are extremely common," says ob-gyn Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at Yale University and author of What Every Woman Needs to Know About Menopause. And even though you may feel wacky, rest assured, "You're not nuts!" says Dr. Minkin. "There are a whole bunch of things that can make you grumpy and irritable during menopause. For starters, you may be having hot flashes and sleep problems because of hormonal changes, which can make even the happiest woman moody.”
Nearly half of all women between the ages of 40 and 59 suffer from vaginal dryness at some point. Still, even though vaginal dryness during perimenopause and menopause is extremely common, it is not inevitable. When hormonal imbalance is the cause of vaginal dryness because of a drop in estrogen levels, there are simple steps you can take to improve your natural vaginal lubrication.
Aches and Pains
You may have unexplained soreness in your muscles and joints unrelated to trauma or exercise. Instead, they may be caused by the effects of fluctuating hormones on your immune system. It is not wise to ignore these aches and pains. Early treatment can often bring about a cure and prevent further development of arthritis.
A decrease in estrogen can sometimes lead to memory problems. You might find yourself searching for words or forgetting the simplest things. Keep things on track by carrying a daily planner and writing down notes and tasks to keep your head clear.
Do you want to ditch your bedroom and try sleeping in the freezer? You are not alone. An estimated 75 percent of perimenopausal and menopausal women will experience hot flashes. Hot flashes are thought to result from problems with the brain’s temperature-regulatory center. That sweat rolling down your face and the feeling that your head is an oven is the result of a loss of estrogen production registering in your brain.
You might find it difficult to sleep, particularly at night when hot flashes become the dreaded night sweats. Keep things cool by taking a cold shower before bed and wearing lightweight pajamas. Ditch flannel blankets for lightweight cotton sheets, and cut off your caffeine use in the early afternoon.
While hormones can be blamed for nearly every condition under the sun — and often rightfully so — they may not be the direct culprit in the case of diminished desire. Menopause can cause some women to feel like they've suddenly been transported into someone else's body, and studies have found that perhaps the low libido often comes not only from the physical side effects like vaginal dryness, insomnia, and hot flashes, but also from the toll of these forces working in tandem. The feeling of being out of sorts, uncomfortable, and fatigued can reduce your urge for sex greatly.
Many women develop hypothyroidism, or slow thyroid function, around the time of menopause. The thyroid is not just important to your metabolism; in addition to regulating your weight, the thyroid acts as an energizer for every cell in the body. A slow thyroid slows down the digestive system and other systems too, even affecting the brain and raising your risk for depression.
Like other menopausal symptoms, declining hormones are behind the transformation from a pear-shaped body to an apple-shaped one. Add that to all the other changes experienced during this time, and you may begin to feel like a stranger in a strange world — someone you don’t know in a body you barely recognize. It's important to know that extra weight around the waistline can increase your risk of a variety of health conditions, from heart disease to breast cancer. While this may appear to be adding insult to injury, try to reframe that new risk as an inspiration for staying fit and working harder than ever to fight the battle of belly bulge.
A study out of Harvard Medical School found that women approaching menopause were nearly twice as likely to develop depression as those not approaching menopause and that the toll depression takes only exacerbates the other challenges of this time of life. It's important to have a good support system as you go through these changes. Listen to what your body is telling you and don't feel bad about needing a little help during your life change!