Thursday, March 18, 2010

My experiences of the 34 Symptoms of Menopause

1. Hot flashes, flushes, night sweats and/or cold flashes, clammy feeling (related to increased activity in the autonomic / sympathetic nervous system). Without becoming too technical, messages are sent to the hypothalmus because of declining estrogen production via neurons which result in vasodilation -- widening of the lumen of blood vessels (lumen being the cavity of a tubular organ, i.e., the lumen of a blood vessel,) which, in turn, causes flushing or hot flashes. Tips for treating/minimizing (and even avoiding) hot flashes: Power Surge's Menopause Survival Tips. Also, read the Power Surges (hot flashes) Forum - Didn’t really suffer from cold flashes but the hot flushes were so bad that I slept under 2 fans with my windows wide open in the middle of winter. Did have problems with spiders crawling through my windows and than I would get cold flashes but I don’t think this was menopausal – more like being petrified of spiders.

2. Bouts of rapid heartbeat (related to increased activity in the autonomic / sympathetic nervous system) Note: Along with rapid heartbeat (palpitations), women can experience skipped heartbeats, irregular heartbeats. These are generally normal vasomotor responses experienced during menopause - usually due to fluctuating hormone levels. – Never had this checked out but there were occasions when I thought I was getting a heart attack. Made sure that my will and everything else was in place just in case.

3. Irritability. Note: Along with irritability, a host of "anger" problems can develop during menopause. Just as a perimenopausal woman can find herself suddenly crying for no apparent reason or provocation, so can she find herself reacting to given situations in an angrier manner than she normally does. This anger can sometimes feel like "rage." Again, this is hormone-induced, but for some women, the anger can become inappropriate and a woman can feel like she's out of control. There's nothing wrong with seeking counselling to discuss these issues with a mental health professional. This is a challenging time of life and some objective outside help can be tremendously useful in helping a woman cope with all the emotions she's feeling. Remember, menopause isn't simply physical changes, but emotional and spiritual changes as well. – If there was a competition as to who could be the most irritable person within the shortest possible time, I would have won by a large margin. And I was definitely out of control. And the rage. It was so bad that I cannot even find the words to describe how quickly my mood would swing from laughter to an uncontrollable blinding rage.

4. Mood swings, sudden tears. Note: Mood swings can include anything from mood shifts (happy one moment, depressed the next) to sudden bouts of crying when nothing overt has occurred to cause the crying. Mood swings can and have been misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder because one can feel such extremes of emotions due to hormone imbalance. Anxiety, depression, panic attacks and even feelings of agoraphobia aren't uncommon during menopause. The panic attacks often can develop with the onset of hot flashes. For some women, hot flashes can be severe and quite frightening. – The worst of my symptoms. From being a caring, loving, gentle, compassionate and understanding person, I became a vicious, spiteful, nasty shrew without the ability or need to understand or care. I would be laughing hysterically one minute and then go totally berserk the next. Although it was not pleasant for all concerned, it was especially bad for the one going through menopause because sub consciously you know that this is not you, not the real you and yet there is nothing you can do to stop it or control it. I thought I was scared of spiders but compared to going through menopause, I would rather sit in a box full of spiders.

5. Trouble sleeping through the night (with or without night sweats). Note: This can develop into insomnia or just waking at 2 in the morning for an hour. Relaxation and breathing exercises can be useful at this time -- many women may log onto the Power Surge message boards and are surprised to find so many other women there in the middle of the night. More help on the Insomnia, Sleep Disorders Forum . I have always been very lucky when it came to sleep. Once my head hit the pillow I was out for the count. For me, waking up in the middle of the night, or the constant tossing and turning was exhausting, which in turn aggravated my moods and my energy levels were practically non-existent. I just could never understand why, from being a reasonably strong hiker (Ok, ok, a stronger than I used to be hiker), all of sudden I became a pathetically weak one.

6. Irregular periods: shorter, lighter or heavier periods, flooding, and phantom periods. Note: A phantom period is when you experience all the symptoms you're accustomed to having before you menstruate -- but... no period comes. This is a common experience during perimenopause before a woman's period actually stops. – I get the phantom periods and have to take extra estrogen gel during this period because I tend to get moody and very impatient although it is not as bad as when I wasn’t on medication.

7. Loss of libido (sex drive). Note: Not every woman loses her libido entirely during perimenopause, although some may temporarily. Many women simply have a decreased interest in sex - often it's simply because they generally don't feel well and sex is the last thing on their mind! Also, bear in mind that there are many medications that can affect one's libido, including the anti-depressants some women take to cope with the depression and anxiety associated with menopause to anti-hypertensives. – Never really had a problem with this one.

8. Dry vagina (results in painful intercourse) Note: Click here for an excellent article about vaginal dryness, sexuality and midlife relationships. Recommended: Sexual Issues/Libido Forum . Never really had a problem with this one as far as I remember.

9. Crashing fatigue. Note: I've never been able to determine if the "fatigue" associated with perimenopause is a symptom in and of itself, or if it's a side effect of the cumulative symptoms and general exhaustion (from them) many women experience. Take all the symptoms and "dump" them on one person -- is it any wonder perimenopausal women are so fatigued? – Not something I knew about at the time and just presumed it to be one of those ‘I’m getting old’ symptoms. Although it was something that did worry me because from being a physically strong person, I suddenly felt reduced to a person with the strength of a baby.

10. Anxiety, feeling ill at ease. Note: One of the biggest complaints during menopause. Read the Anxiety/Stress Forum. – From somebody who never worried about anything, to all of a sudden worrying about every small minute trivial detail. It was exhausting. Always felt ill at ease and my confidence always needed working on so can’t blame the menopause for that. It might have exacerbated the problem but that could also have been caused by the rejection.

11. Feelings of dread, apprehension, and doom (includes thoughts of death, picturing one's own death). Note: It's possible that this can be a manifestation of depression associated with menopause, or possibly feelings that come from going through daily discomfort through a difficult menopause transition that can last anywhere from 3-12 years. A woman living under these circumstances can feel totally overwhelmed and frightened by the physical, psychological and spiritual changes. When there seems to be no reprieve from the suffering, for some it can leave them feeling drained wondering when and IF they'll ever feel well again. It isn't unusual for women at this time of life to have thoughts about dying. One phase of their life is coming to a close (not soon enough for many). There may be apprehension and fear about moving on to the next phase of life and wondering whether things will get better or worse. Helpful: The Panic Attacks / Disorder / Fear / Apprehension Forum. – Thoughts of suicide regularly came to mind. I would sit and work out which is the best way. Jump in front of a car – but than the driver would have to live with his guilt. Going for a long drive and drive into a tree – car wasn’t fast enough and it had a strong body. Chances were that I would do nothing more than hurt myself. Not a good option as I hate pain. Go for a hike and blow my head away – couldn’t find my gun. (Think one of the kids hid it away.) Hang myself – no matter how much I practiced I just couldn’t tie the knot to do a proper job. In my more lucid moments I knew this was ridiculous but the lucid moments didn’t stick around long enough to take hold.

12. Difficulty concentrating, disorientation, & mental confusion. Note: Forgetfulness during perimenopause is often referred to lightly and humorously as "brain fog" but it's not always funny. Note: An excellent article, Menopause And The Mind. Also, visit the Memory Loss, Foggy Thinking, Forgetfulness, Verbal Slips ForumBrain fog. Sounds so much better than altzeimers which I genuinely thought I was getting. I would speak to somebody on the phone and would then have to phone them back to find out what we were discussing. I am sure a lot of people thought that I was either loony or so self-absorbed that I couldn’t remember what they said. It is a terrible experience to have to go through because you don’t remember a lot of things. I am just so thankful that my memory is slowly coming back. Not all there yet but there is definitely an improvement.

13. Disturbing memory lapses. Note: See #12,

4. Incontinence -- especially upon sneezing, laughing: urge incontinence (reflects a general loss of smooth muscle tone). – Unfortunately I still have that problem which makes it very difficult to organize activities and hard to socialize. You get to the stage when you don’t want to laugh because you might just have an accident. You become housebound, too scared to go out.

15. Itchy, crawly skin (feeling of ants crawling under the skin, not just dry, itchy skin Note: the feeling of ants crawling on your skin is called "formication") Visit the Your Skin: Dryness, Itching, Vaginal Dryness, Disorders, Discomfort ForumPut baby oil on after my shower because I just thought my skin was drying out. This ant crawling under your skin is a really weird feeling and you start thinking that there is something major wrong with you. It sometimes gets so bad that you scratch your skin until it is raw and bleeding.

16. Aching, sore joints, muscles and tendons. (may include such problems as carpal tunnel syndrome). Note: Osteoarthritis can develop during perimenopause - and those with existing arthritic and/or rheumatic pain may find it's exacerbated during the menopausal transition. See the Joints Aches and Pains/Arthrisitis Forum - There were occasions when my muscles would get sore or some of my joints would ache but nothing major so didn’t concern myself about them. Thought it was also one of these ‘I’m getting old’ feelings.

17. Increased tension in muscles. – At this point in time I was so tense that if I had to bend ever so slightly I would have broken myself in two.

18. Breast tenderness. Note: Breast swelling, soreness, pain. – And this is the time when you starting worrying about breast cancer.

19. Headache change: increase or decrease. Note: Many women develop migraine headaches during perimenopause. However, if one doesn't have a history of migraine headeaches, they're generally a short-lived experience of perimenopause. Also see the Headaches, Migraine Forum. Before hiking I always suffered from headaches so the return of them didn’t surprise me as I wasn’t doing too much hiking. Different type of headache though and sometimes thought that I was going to have an aneurism

20. Gastrointestinal distress, indigestion, flatulence, gas pain, nausea. Note: For nausea, try some ginger or, as I use, boiling hot water with a few teaspoons of lemon or lemon juice concentrate in it. Many women also develop acid reflux (Gerd). For some, it can be an uncomfortable feeling of severe burning sensations in the throat. If it persists, see your health care practitioner. – Maalox became my best friend. Besides my cigarettes, I wouldn’t leave home without it.

21. Sudden bouts of bloat. Note: Bloating, water retention are common complaints during perimenopause. Also, Acid reflux and heartburn are very common during perimenopause. Treat them as you would if you weren't going through menopause. – As an unhealthy eater at the best of times, I always had feelings of being bloated although being menopausal might have aggravated it somewhat.

22. Depression (has a quality from other depression, the inability to cope is overwhelming, there is a feeling of a loss of self. Natural hormone therapy, ameliorates the depression dramatically). Note: There are various natural methods of treating depression. Read Power Surge's Menopause Survival Tips. Also, many women using progestins or progesterone supplementation experience "depression" as a side effect. Power Surge recommends only naturally compounded, bio-identical hormones. Naturally compounded estrogen and progesterone supplementation doses can be individually adjusted to suit each woman's needs. So, if a woman is experiencing depression from progesterone, the level of progesterone supplementation can be reduced until the compounding pharmacist comes up with the right blend. The combination of estrogen and progesterone is important in achieving the desired results. Other remedies, such as St. John's Wort can be very effective in alleviating the depression associated with menopause. – My personal experience was that my perimenopause-related depression was elliminated when I started using Revival Soy Protein Revival is excellent for mood swings, but I was astonished by the impact it had on the hormone-related "lows" I experienced before using it. Also recommended, The Depression Forum. Never having been a depressed person, this was a very difficult one to understand. But boy, when I got depressed I really got depressed and thoughts of suicide would often cross my mind. It was an extremely scary time because you are aware of your thoughts but powerless to put a stop to them.

23. Exacerbation of any existing conditions. Note: Often, conditions women had prior to entering perimenopause become exaggerated (worse) during the menopause transition. – I was a pretty healthy person before, except for the smoking, where I jumped from smoking 20 a day to 60, so although I was moody, irritable, exhausted, depressed, health wise I didn’t really have a problem.

24. Increase in allergies. Note: Many women who suffer from allergies develop worse allergies during the menopausal years. Many women who've never had allergy or respiratory problems may develop them for the first time. Many people don't realize that histamine levels are affected by hormone levels. Women can develop wheezing, coughing and a host of respiratory problems. This generally disappears as the hormones level out once a woman becomes menopausal. – I have recently started the wheezing and coughing but I think that is more a smoker’s cough than a menopausal one.

25. Weight gain. (is often around the waist and thighs, resulting in "the disappearing waistline" and changes in body shape.) A good read, Weight Gain and Fitness Issues - Michelin man’s daughter come to life. I am not kidding. I put on so much weight that I couldn’t wear anything that didn’t have elastic in. It took me 6 months to lose 18kg’s when I started hiking and playing badminton. Now it looked like I was going to put all 18kg back within a month. And considering I had just recently married, this was a great concern.

26. Hair loss or thinning, head or whole body, increase in facial hair. Note: There is often a loss of pubic hair during menopause. Many women are more comfortable simply shaving their pubic area instead of having patches of hair. – Presumed this to be one of those ‘I’m getting old’ concerns. Worrisome all the same as my hair is my only crowning glory as far as I was concerned so the partial loss thereof was totally devastating to me. Yes, I was vain about my hair. Still am for that matter. Then again, if you have nothing else going for you, why not? Regarding the facial hair, it was a choice between getting a ‘mach 4 blade’ or an electric razor.

27. Dizziness, light-headedness, episodes of loss of balance. Note: Although common complaints during menopause, I always recommend anyone suffering from dizziness, dysequilibrium have her blood pressure checked just to be on the safe side. However, women can experience these symptoms during perimenopause without having hypertension. – Well no hypertension except when I flew into a rage but it can be quite scary when you find yourself falling all over the place for no reason whatsoever.

28. Changes in body odor. Note: I wouldn't be too concerned about this one. It can happen, but in 13 years of running Power Surge, I've heard of relatively few cases of developing body odor during menopause. – I didn’t notice anything different but being a smoker my sense of smell is not what is should be.

29. Electric shock sensation under the skin & in the head ("take the feeling of a rubber band snapping against the skin, multiply it (exponentially, sometimes) radiate it & put it in the layer of tissues between skin & muscle & sometimes a precursor to a hot flash.") Note: Those buzzing sensations, as though you've put your finger into a live electrical socket, can be frightening. They're all part of the hormones, nerve endings and electrical waves running through our bodies when our hormones are constantly fluctuating. Many women experience this during perimenopause, but it eventually passes. – Sometimes felt this but mostly in the head. Presumed it to be one of my usual headaches.

30. Tingling in the extremities (can also be a symptom of B-12 deficiency, diabetes, or from an alteration in the flexibility of blood vessels in the extremities.) – Diagnosed with diabetes but still a horrible and scary feeling. Sometimes gets so bad that I want to cut my feet off to get rid of the pain. At one time had such absurd thoughts of internal combustion and that my kids were just going to find a pile of ashes on the bed.

31. Gum problems, increased bleeding. - Nope

32. Burning tongue – Maybe after having whip lashed somebody but otherwise no

33. Osteoporosis (after several years) – Not that I am aware of.

34. Brittle fingernails, which peel & break easily. – Yep

Stress can definitely intensify one or more of the above symptoms, such as stressful life events, that may also cause emotional symptoms.

My most stressful periods were in between the 4th and 8th year of my menopausal period. This was in May of 2004 when my husband passed away and August of 2008 when my second marriage fell apart.

I am not going to bore you with the details of the stress I was under but it was an extremely stressful time for me which in turn intensified some of the above symptoms – rage, irritability, moodiness, etc.

I do need to mention that apparently only 5% of woman go through the majority of the symptoms mentioned above. It is important to remember that each woman's experience is highly individual. Some women may experience few or no symptoms of menopause, while others experience multiple physical and psychological symptoms. The extent and severity of symptoms varies significantly among women.

Many women arrive at their menopause years without knowing anything about what they might expect, or when or how the process might happen, and how long it might take. Very often a woman has not been informed in any way about this stage of life; at least in the US, it may often be the case that she has received no information from her physician, or from her older female family members, or from her social group. In the US, there appears to be a lingering taboo which hangs over this subject. As a result, women who happen to undergo strong perimenopause with a large number of different effects, may become confused and anxious, fearing that something abnormal is happening to her.

I recently came upon another interesting website where others have their say about their experiences with menopause -

More information on perimenopause -

Are there steps I can take to make the menopause easier?

It’s perhaps taking it a bit far to say that with the right attitude the menopause can be made into a joyous part of your life. However, the same actions that make life better generally will make the menopause better, too.

• Regular exercise such as walking for 20-30 minutes three or four times a week can improve your health and add years to your life. Exercise strengthens your bones, increases wellbeing and can help make sleeping easier.

• Eating the right food is also important. For healthy bones, the body needs about 1500mg of calcium each day from dairy products such as milk products and cheese.

• Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables provides the necessary minerals and vitamins for good general health and also helps to protect against cancer and heart disease.

• There is some evidence that soy flour (or other foods rich in so-called ‘plant oestrogen’) can reduce menopausal flushings.

• Smoking is never good for your health. Stopping smoking is the biggest single move anyone can make to improve their health, whatever their age.

From being a totally irrational, rage filled, irritable, spiteful and vindictive person, I did a complete turnaround once I started on the hormone replacement tablets and finally managed to accept that menopause is part of life. Your actions during menopause, although it cannot be helped, is not acceptable behaviour so the sooner you go for help, the better for yourself, your family and your friends.

I am not advocating hormone replacement tablets to everyone. It is always advisable to speak to your doctor about what you are going through and what your symptoms are. What I am advising is not to wait until it is too late before see’ing a doctor.

Not realising how bad menopause can effect a person, I did not really pay any attention to the symptoms or how it can change your life or what effect it can have on your relationships with friends and family. Two husbands later, and 3 friends later, I now know. Menopause can be the worst experience of your life if left untreated and if there is nobody to stand beside you and hold your hand while going through this experience, it can remain the worst experience of your life.

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