Just when you enter middle age with the confidence life’s experiences endow you with, and perhaps feel safe in the knowledge that you know yourself, your likes and dislikes and what makes you tick - everything changes.
Most of us are au fait with the common symptoms of menopause: hot flushes, night sweats, erratic periods, brain fog, and as if that’s all not bad enough - a thickening waistline. But what of the other changes that nobody really talks about? Don’t fret, once you know the best way to counter the health challenges menopause throws at you, this can be a time to embrace freedom and feel empowered.
1. Feeling more introverted
You may be surprised to find that you like spending more time alone. This is ‘me-time’ with a solitary slant. Even if you’re a natural extrovert, the mood shifts that you experience as a result of fluctuating hormones can make you feel more emotional and introspective. Feelings of anxiety, and even panic attacks, are common - and treatment can help. But rather than mistakenly thinking you’re on the brink of depression, psychologists say we should be harnessing this time of heightened emotions for a little self-reflection. After all, up until now, you’ve probably been looking after everyone else and putting yourself last. This could be your time to flourish and choose the direction for the second phase in your life, with renewed purpose.
2. Your ‘bad’ cholesterol may rise
As it happens, the main female hormone oestrogen helps to regulate cholesterol as well as your reproductive system. So when you produce less of this hormone as you go into menopause it’s likely that your levels of the bad type of cholesterol LDL will go up. The good news is that with exercise and by eating cholesterol-lowering foods, you can counter this. Try eating oats, which contain beta-glucan, a substance which absorbs bad cholesterol, which is then secreted out of the body. Other cholesterol-beating foods include; red wines such as Rioja, fatty fish like salmon and sardines, nuts and black tea. It’s during menopause that women catch up with men in terms of their risk of developing certain conditions. As well as high cholesterol, women’s risk of diabetes and heart disease goes up too. Going to your GP for a blood screening will help establish whether this applies to you, so you can adjust your lifestyle or take medication if needed.
3. Itchy skin
You may have noticed that your skin has become dryer. Some women experience this on their bodies, and describe it as if their ‘skin is crawling with ants’, while for others it’s most marked in a dry and flaky complexion. This can be good news if you’ve previously been prone to oily skin and acne, which should now clear up. The way to remedy dry skin is to stay hydrated inside and out. Keeping your water quota up can help, and swapping to herbal teas that contain less caffeine.
4. Burning Tongue
You know the burning sensation you get on your tongue when you drink something that’s too hot? Well this sensation can affect women during the menopause. Known as ‘burning tongue,’ it is a condition that can affect other areas of the mouth too, including the inside of the mouth and lips. You may feel a burning, stinging or tingling, and some women experience numbness, dryness or a metallic taste. It’s thought to be caused by an imbalance of hormones and a doctor specialising in menopause care might prescribe natural supplements to help.
Many women find the condition is triggered by spicy foods, cinnamon or strong mint flavours like toothpaste. Alleviate symptoms by drinking cold or iced water, and stimulating salvia by chewing gum.
5. A fluttering heart
It’s understandable to feel alarmed if your heart seems to be fluttering, or skipping a beat. But rather than something being seriously wrong, these palpitations could be down to surges in hormones, and this should settle down as your body adjusts to its new hormone levels. However, if this is accompanied by shortness of breath or feeling faint, then it’s important to get it checked out by a doctor. A doctor can perform an ECG to evaluate your heart health, and give you peace of mind.
6. Thinning Hair
“In menopausal and perimenopausal women hair loss is not uncommon. This might manifest itself in a receding hair line, especially around the temples or an increasingly wider hair parting. Blood tests will indicate whether this is due to an increase of androgens which can be because of the menopause or certain oral contraceptives pills or polycystic ovarian syndrome.”
So, what can menopausal women do about hair loss? “A method which evolved initially from orthopaedics and plastic surgery and aimed towards regeneration of cells showing promising results is known as Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy combined with Mesotherapy,” says Dr Badvey. “A sample of the patient's blood is taken and spun in a specific centrifuge to separate the plasma and injected back into the patient's scalp and repeated 4 -5 times at 4-6 week intervals.”
7. Big, floppy feet
The condition plantar fasciitis is most common in people aged 40- 60, and women are twice as likely to develop the condition. It’s believed dropped arches following menopause, lead to overpronation. This can also mean that women find themselves having to throw away their beloved shoes as those fallen arches mean their usual sized shoes simply do not fit any more. One answer to this problem may be a trip to a cosmetic foot surgeon to find a solution. Alternatively, you could see a consultant rheumatologist who can give you a steroid injection to alleviate the pain.
8. Dryness ... everywhere
Your skin can get dry during the menopause – sadly, it’s those pesky hormones leaving your body which causes this. Consult a gynaecologist about HRT . Visting a dermatologist will also help. However, what many women find difficult is intimate dryness. For women who cannot take HRT, such as those at an elevated risk of breast cancer, dryness down there can cause real problems when it comes to comfort, exercise and sex. Attending a dedicated menopause clinic will give you access to the latest treatments.
9. Your libido may rise
While it’s true that you’ll have nights when you just don’t feel in the mood for sex, it’s not true that your libido will simply disappear because you’re going through the menopause. On the contrary, just like during your normal menstrual cycle when fluctuating hormones made you feel more up for it at certain times of the month, so hormone shifts can lead to dramatic surges in oestrogen, which can make you feel frisky. If your periods have stopped, that's another bonus, and your libido will no longer be dampened down by hormonal contraceptives.
Add to that the fact you usually have less childcare responsibility and more time, and you can make time for love whenever you choose!
Find out more at London PMS & Menopause Clinic
The time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle, and her periods ceaseFull medical glossary