“Menopause isn’t really that bad,” said no woman ever. Menopause brings enough changes to our physical and mental well-being—the last thing we want is to be blindsided by some strange symptoms our doctors didn’t warn us about. Beyond the anticipated hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and fatigue, many women are experiencing symptoms they didn’t see coming.
So, we asked around. Here's what we learned, from women who have been through it.
Temporary Intolerance to Lactose
“I was temporarily intolerant to lactose. Had no idea what was causing sudden stomach issues. On my own, I stopped eating dairy with lactose. All my symptoms disappeared! This went on for about 2 years. I then learned that my mom went through this during her perimenopause and now my sister is going through it.”
One effect of hormonal changes during menopause is the potential for gastrointestinal discomfort. Estrogen, a hormone that significantly decreases during menopause, plays a crucial role in regulating various bodily functions, including digestion—thus a possible increase in symptoms like bloating, cramping, and diarrhea.
The withdrawal of estrogen can slow the digestive process, leading to changes in how the body reacts to certain foods. Foods that were once easily digestible may now cause unexpected reactions, and the digestive system may become more sensitive overall.
Adjusting your diet by adding more fiber and avoiding certain foods, can help with these symptoms. If stomach problems persist, it's important to talk to a healthcare provider, who can rule out underlying concerns and help find ways to deal with these disruptive menopausal symptoms.
A Rollercoaster of Emotions
“Manic, jittery emotional roller coaster, coupled with sleeping in 2-hour increments–soaking the sheets–following a radical hysterectomy.”
During menopause, many women find themselves navigating mood swings. To this individual, her mood swings were more intense and dramatic than anticipated. Hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, can affect the brain's neurotransmitters, causing sudden and intense changes in mood. You can go from feeling irritable and angry to overwhelmed with sadness without much warning. Realizing that these emotional roller coasters are often a natural part of the menopausal journey can empower women to seek support, whether through understanding friends and family or professional guidance.
For some women, the unexpected changes of menopause include flimsy nails and thinning hair. The decline in estrogen levels can affect the health of hair and nails. You may find yourself frustrated by brittle, easily breakable nails and a noticeable reduction in hair thickness. Realizing that these changes are a common part of menopause allows women to explore proactive measures such as a nutrient-rich diet, proper hydration, targeted hair care, and nail health products.
Hot Flashes on a Schedule
“It was always around 10 pm. It started as an odd hot feeling in my lower chest and like a heater getting turned up, it worked its way up to my head. I then felt flushed and after about 30 seconds it passed. Of course, all the normal symptoms were there and tolerable. The flashes were just a very weird sensation.”
If you’ve never had a hot flash, it’s hard to comprehend the uncontrollable sensation that leaves you dripping sweat and totally uncomfortable. While hot flashes are a hallmark symptom of menopause, this individual experienced them like clockwork.
Hot flashes result from rapid hormonal fluctuations that impact the body's internal thermostat (the hypothalamus). This part of the brain becomes more sensitive to temperature shifts and often makes a dramatic correction. For some, hormone-free supplementation can drastically improve this menopause symptom. Others may seek medical intervention or hormone replacement therapy recommended by a healthcare provider. Alleviating the frequency and severity of hot flashes allows women to reclaim a sense of comfort and confidence during menopause.
Joint and Back Pain
“I have noticed strange flare ups of a chronic hip/lower back injury that I’m getting treatment for. It will appear as if I’m improving, then for no obvious reason I’ll get very tight muscles and pain/aggravation in the area, then a day or so later it will settle down as quick as it flared up.”
Joint pain is a lesser-known aspect of menopause that some women may encounter. Estrogen has anti-inflammatory properties, so decreased levels during menopause can cause achy joints—especially if there is a previous injury.
Having less estrogen also increases women’s risk for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. To help prevent this, it’s crucial for women to consistently exercise and maintain a healthy diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin D.
Menstrual Periods at 52
“I’m still having regular periods at 52. Definitely feel emotional, back pain, sensitive, tired.”
Feeling like the odd one out when your friends have bid farewell to their menstrual cycles? That’s entirely normal–menopause arrives at its own pace for each woman. The median age for menopause is around 51, and it's considered within the normal range through the age of 55.
Before reaching menopause, many women undergo perimenopause. Perimenopause typically starts when menstrual cycles become less predictable and concludes about a year after your final period. This transitional period can vary, spanning from a few months to several years.
As you navigate perimenopause, it's common to encounter some of the well-known menopausal symptoms that might make you feel less than your usual self. If you find yourself concerned about the changes in your menstrual cycle, the intensity of your symptoms, or if you're wondering whether you're starting menopause later than usual, don't hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider. They can offer guidance, address your concerns, and provide personalized recommendations to help you navigate this transformative stage with confidence.
Remember: your unique menopausal journey is entirely valid and deserving of extra attention and support.