Menopause Symptoms No One Warns You About
Menopause symptoms no one warns you about
Hot flushes, weight gain and a diminished sex drive are all well-known symptoms of the menopause. But research now confirms what women have long suspected — that ‘the change’ can affect the body, and mind, in many other ways. Here, we look at what you can do to tackle these more unusual symptoms…
As we age, the muscles we use to move air in and out of our lungs weaken, and the larynx changes. Our voices become more harsh, our pitch range and loudness is reduced, and our voices become more breathy and hoarse. Voice tremor also increases as we age. Voice changes occur gradually through adulthood, although women’s voices change most noticeably after menopause
Experts say that fluctuating sex hormones, i.e. estrogen, progesterone and androgen, can result in a thinning and dryness in the vocal folds (or vocal cords). Because it takes greater effort to make sounds, voice changes can occur. Notably, studies have shown that not all women are affected by these changes nor are they affected in the same ways. However, when women are affected, their voices may get rougher/huskier, lose stability, lose their top notes and vocal range, and change their timbre. Professional singers or actors, or even consultants on the lecture circuit, all of whom rely on their voices to earn a living, are especially affected.
Researchers acknowledge that further study is needed to distinguish between vocal changes that occur as a result of menopause versus those that occur as a direct result of aging. Yet, regardless of the cause and degree that each factor contributes, voice changes can affect almost half of postmenopausal women.
How to fight back: Hormone replacement therapy. Study results have been mixed, with some findings showing improvements in voice complaints and voice function/vocal quality and others, demonstrating none. Further research is needed that evaluates the effect of HRT on the larynx as well as its ability to prevent voice changes if instituted early. Of course, HRT is wrought with other dangersthat might make its use, prohibitive or not worth the risk/benefit ratio.
Voice therapy. Although many questions remain unanswered, vocal coaches and speech pathologists say that voice therapy can help relieve vocal fatigue. There are exercises that work well to address aging vocal cords, rebuild muscle tone and help women learn how to use their voice more efficiently.
Vitamin therapy. Research has shown that multivitamin therapy that includes magnesium, mineral salts, vitamins B5, B6 and E may improve vocal quality and help keep the vocal folds moist. Although experts say that there is not enough evidence for the role of vitamins in voice, vitamins, minerals and anxioxidants play an important role in health regardless of whether voice changes occur.
YOU START SNORING
For years, you’ve been complaining that your partner’s snoring keeps you awake. Now the menopause is setting in, he could well be pointing the finger at you.
Many women start snoring more seriously once they hit the change of life — which for UK women is 51 on average.
The onset of snoring is partly due to falling levels of female sex hormone oestrogen, which — as well as regulating the menstrual cycle —also plays a role in keeping the muscles and soft tissues around the windpipe strong.
When these become more lax, the tissues collapse — and women can’t breathe as easily when they sleep.
In the most serious cases, it can lead to sleep apnoea, where the airways become partially or totally obstructed for up to ten seconds at a time, forcing the brain to wake up — even though the sleeper may not be aware of it.
A study by the University of Toronto found that 47 per cent of post-menopausal women suffer with the condition — compared to 21 per cent of younger women. Because the quality of sleep is impaired by the constant waking, side-effects can include tiredness, anxiety and forgetfulness.
HOW TO FIGHT BACK: Try buying a pillow designed to make you sleep on your back — or with your head and throat in alignment — so your airways stay open as you sleep.
For women with serious cases of sleep apnoea, there are masks, called CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), which blow air into the throat to keep breathing easier.
YOU’RE LOST FOR WORDS
Word on the tip of your tongue you just can’t recall? Forgetting an old friend’s name? It could be another symptom of the menopause.
In one study, 40 per cent of women aged 40 to 55 said they had trouble remembering things, even when their other thought processes remained as strong as ever.
Studies have shown that when oestrogen levels dip it is more difficult to build connections between brain cells, and to store and recall memories.
HOW TO FIGHT BACK: The good news is that, in most cases, it’s a phase which will have passed a year after your last period, according to neuro-psychiatrist Miriam Weber.
During this time, women have to face up to the fact that they need to do more to make sure information sinks in, she says. ‘You shouldn’t expect to be able to remember everything after hearing it just once. Repeat it out loud, or say it back to the person to confirm it — it will help you hold on to that information for longer.’
A study at Durham University also found that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can rejuvenate the brain. The research found it took years off a woman’s mental age because HRT helped the left and right sides of the brain to work better together.
YOU CRAVE SUGARY TREATS
There’s a reason that cupcakes and desserts look more tempting than they used to. Studies have found women develop a sweeter tooth as they go through the menopause.
A study by Turkey’s Ankara University found that 35 per cent of women said their palate was not as sensitive during the change of life, and that they craved stronger, sweeter tastes.
At the same time, as levels of the oestrogen and the other female sex hormone, progesterone, drop, women become more prone to insulin resistance — where the body’s cells don’t respond as well to insulin, making sugar cravings soar.
HOW TO FIGHT BACK: To beat your sweet tooth, eat smaller, more regular meals, containing lean proteins, which are absorbed more slowly into the blood stream.
As our sensitivity to sugar drops, —and we may not taste the sweetness — it’s also more important than ever to read food labels.
Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Healthy Eating For The Menopause, says: ‘You may decide to take less sugar in your tea — but it is the hidden added sugar in products that can be the major culprit.
‘It has been calculated that we could be taking in up to 46 teaspoons of added sugar in a day in the foods and drinks we consume.’
Swap to sugar-free brands of tomato ketchup or spaghetti sauce. You can replace sugar with xylitol, which is naturally found in fruits and berries and has a low glycaemic index [a measure of how fast blood sugar levels rise after eating].
YOUR MOUTH FEELS LIKE IT’S BURNING
One of the most bizarre side- effects of the menopause is the scalding feeling some women get on their lips, gums, tongue or other parts of their mouths.
Although it can affect people of all ages, by far the majority of people suffering ‘burning mouth syndrome’ are those going through menopause.
According to research, between 10 to 40 per cent of women seeking help for menopausal symptoms also suffer some type of mouth discomfort, including experiencing a metallic taste. The cause of burning mouth syndrome, which can last for several years, is not completely understood. But most scientists believe that the problem is caused by oestrogen’s effect on the nerves that control taste.
HOW TO FIGHT BACK: Burning mouth syndrome gets worse when sufferers talk a lot, eat hot or spicy foods or are stressed — so relaxation and bland meals are recommended.
The discomfort is often accompanied by dryness — and experts at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital advise women to drink more water and chew sugar-free gum to keep the mouth moist.
YOUR ORGASMS ARE LESS INTENSE
When oestrogen levels start to fall during the menopause, the blood supply to the genital area can also diminish — making for less powerful orgasms. The tissues and muscles around the clitoris become weaker. As a result, orgasms may take longer to achieve and may be shorter in length.
In one study, published in the Journal of Sex Research, 15 per cent of women going through menopause said they were less interested in sex and could not reach orgasm, compared to six per cent of young women.
HOW TO FIGHT BACK: When it comes to orgasms, experts recommend that you keep practising.
Sex researchers have found that women who continue to have frequent sex during the menopause have fewer problems than those whose sex lives dwindle or stop.
Regular intercourse also keeps up the flow of blood to the pelvic region, keeping the tissues stronger and healthier.
Women who make love often have also been found to have better lubrication and stronger pelvic muscles.
Kegel exercises also can also help with sexual satisfaction post-menopause. To do a basic exercise, tighten the muscles of your pelvic floor as if you’re trying to stop urinating. Count to three, then release. Gradually build up the number to around 50 to 100 a day.
YOUR SKIN ITCHES
Hot flushes are probably the most infamous side-effect of menopause. But to make things worse for some women, these embarrassing episodes — in which the temperature of the body dramatically soars — are preceded by attacks of itchy skin, known as ‘formication’.
Some women compare the feeling to the sensation of having ants crawling all over them, while others say it feels as if they have been plugged in to an electric socket.
Researchers believe this tingling is caused by zig-zagging oestrogen levels affecting receptors in the skin’s nerve endings.
HOW TO FIGHT BACK: Breathing exercises can relieve the discomfort before and during a hot flush.
Earlier this year, researchers at King’s College, London, found that teaching women breathing exercises to slow their heart rate and using cognitive behaviour therapy to replace negative thoughts with positive ones cuts the incidence of severe hot flushes.