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The lesser known symptoms of menopause – how to manage more than just the hot flushes

The lesser known symptoms of menopause – how to manage more than just the hot flushes

Explore the more sensitive questions about menopause, plus some surprising symptoms, and get the straight-up answers you need. It’s not so daunting when you know your options.

Lifestyle insight

Handling the surprises of menopause

In the past many women may have felt that they just had to live with all the symptoms that come with menopause. Many generations of women have been through it all, and science has taught us a lot, so there are loads of strategies and tips to help make the road through menopause a bit smoother.

Plenty of great advice about handling hot flushes and night sweats is readily available. But there are some less discussed menopausal symptoms that may be a bit more tricky to tackle. Some can be hard to talk about (with anyone – your mum, friends or partner). Others are things you might not associate with menopause, but simply put down to normal signs of ageing. So by learning more, you’ll be ready to face a broader range of menopause symptoms. 

We’ve put together a list of some of these difficult-to-discuss topics and some starting points to help. It is always important to speak to a trusted health professional when the symptoms of menopause get in the way of your quality of life. 

Sleeplessness

Fluctuating hormones leading to night sweats are a recipe for sleep disturbance. You might manage to get back to sleep quickly after night sweats, but the quality of your sleep can still be affected by these interruptions. The result? Daytime fatigue!

Sleep can be affected by many factors, but there’s one type of therapy for improving sleep that is may be worth trying – behavioral therapy. This involves improving daily habits and routines that can impact your sleep quality (known as sleep hygiene), and can include relaxation techniques. Healthcare professionals such as counsellors and psychologists can provide this kind of help. If that’s not enough, then your health professional can provide advice on other therapies to try as well.

Learn more about managing sleeplessness during menopause – here.

Joint pain

Aches and pains in your joints, such as your knees and shoulders, are something you might simply expect to increase as you get older. However, these don’t happen without a reason, and menopause can be the reason. Before menopause sets in, hormones can protect you from inflammation that causes joint pain. But when your hormones re-adjust, this protection can wear off. Your doctor or naturopath can provide advice on medication and other remedies for menopausal joint pain.

Urinary health issues

Urinary tract issues such as recurrent cystitis and a need to urinate frequently can begin around the time of menopause. To prevent cystitis from becoming a frequent bother, make sure you drink plenty of water, urinate when you feel the urge and after sex (don’t delay in either situation), wipe from front to back after urinating, take showers rather than baths, and ditch any feminine hygiene sprays that you may have previously used. For bladder weakness, pelvic floor muscle exercises are great, physiotherapy can provide extra help, and it’s best to avoid tea, coffee and alcohol.

Dry genital tissue, and pain brought on by sex

Dryness of the vaginal/vulvar area around menopause are unpleasant, and can lead to discomfort during and after sex. So it’s best to take extra care of this sensitive tissue during menopause. First you should try avoiding soap, ditching feminine hygiene sprays, using unscented toilet tissue, and switching to mild laundry detergent. Also, adding extra omega-3 fatty acids to your diet and keeping well hydrated are good options because they can help prevent dryness. Pelvic floor muscle exercises are also a good strategy to try. If you need to step things up, consider using non-prescription vaginal lubricants before sex (if the dryness only affects you during sex) or vaginal moisturisers (if the dryness is bothersome at other times too – eg, if it makes urinating painful). Its always good to speak to your healthcare professional to understand what options are most appropriate for you. 

Low sexual desire and arousal issues

Low libido and trouble with arousal during menopause might not be easy to talk about, but that’s no reason to ignore these symptoms. You can tackle them gradually, by taking a gentle step-by-step approach to improving your enjoyment of sex.  A good place to start is checking whether something other than menopause could be part of the problem. You can do this by giving yourself a relationship check-up – ask yourself, and maybe your partner, could it be more than just menopause?  Similarly, if you’re taking medication, ask your doctor whether this could affect sexual desire. If so, ask whether other options might be right for you. If you’ve considered these possibilities and still suspect that menopause is affecting you in terms of sexual desire and arousal, it may be a good time to consider either counseling (sex therapy, with or without your partner) or relaxing yoga.

Headaches

The issue of headaches is a very mixed bag at menopause – there’s even some good news for some women. It largely comes down to whether the hormone oestrogen is a headache trigger for you. This means that some women will get relief from headaches, while others will find that headaches become more of a problem. Then there’s migraines – a very particular type of severe headache. Some women who suffer migraines will find that these worsen as they approach menopause, but then subside after menopause.

While your first reaction to worsening headaches might be to reach for medication (prescription or otherwise), there are other things you can try first. Examining your diet to identity possible triggers (eg, red wine, aged cheese or chocolate) can be helpful for some women. And bumping up your exercise levels can be an effective way of preventing headaches for many people. But if you’re not having luck controlling headaches on your own, or if your headaches become worse, talk to a healthcare professional to help find the right therapy plan for you.

Mood swings

Last but not least, unpredictable mood swings can be one of the frustrating realities of menopause. Feeling flustered, anxious, or angry can be severe and sudden at times.
Like with headaches, the hormone oestrogen can be a factor here – as your oestrogen levels drop, your brain’s levels of serotonin (a chemical messenger) also drops, which can destabilize your mood and may make you less happy. And these menopausal mood swings have the potential to affect relationships at home and at work. So what can you do?

  • Talk to your family – make sure they understand what you’re going through
  • Talk to your boss, if you feel comfortable doing so – they may be able to help make things a little easier at work
  • Getting your blood pumping with low-impact exercise such as jogging or Pilates
  • Consider stress management activities such as meditation, or talk to a health professional about whether counselling might be right for you
  • Make sure your diet is balanced, with plenty of fibre, and try incorporating some soy products


Now that you know more, make a plan

You’ll notice that many of the options for tackling menopause symptoms overlap, so trying just a few of these tips may have multiple benefits. So make a plan and make it happen! What will you try first?
 

First signs of perimenopause and what to expect
Stages of menopause
Menopause and sleep

References available on request
 

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