I’ve always assumed that once women went through menopause, the symptoms would end and we would finally feel relief. That has not been the case. Several years later, I still experience hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, dry skin, sleep disruptions, weight gain and hair loss, to name a few. Many of my postmenopausal friends have similar symptoms too. So why are some women still suffering from menopausal symptoms long after they’ve been through the “change”?
Apparently, menopause symptoms will often continue once we’ve stopped menstruating for a full year and we’re in the postmenopausal stage. This is because our ovaries are producing very little estrogen and progesterone, and the low levels of these reproductive hormones can impact our mental and physical health for years to come. All women remain in the postmenopausal stage for the rest of their lives, but thankfully, the symptoms will lessen with age. The only exception would be women on hormonal replacements whose symptoms will appear once they stop treatment.
Here are the most common postmenopausal symptoms women experience and some helpful tips to manage them.
Hot flashes and night sweats
Hot flashes can vary in severity and length for each woman, but I think we can all agree they are uncomfortable at best and debilitating at worst. Most of us have experienced the random rush of intense heat that erupts in our bodies, causing a sudden surge of sweat and our faces to flush. The same can happen at night in our sleep, and we wake up soaked in our saturated sheets. Our low levels of estrogen are affecting our hypothalamus, which overreacts in regulating our body temperature.
Try to avoid certain triggers like caffeine, alcohol, smoking, spicy foods and exposure to high temperatures. There are also hormonal replacement therapies, over-the-counter remedies and prescription medications your health care provider can suggest if your symptoms are severe.
Our poor vaginas endure many postmenopausal changes, including paleness and thinning of the labia, loss of elasticity, dryness, itching, irritation, watery colored discharge, UTIs, sexual discomfort, and urinary incontinence. Whoa. These symptoms are also caused by low levels of estrogen. But uncontrolled diabetes, excessive exercise, chemotherapy, severe stress and depression can also be contributors, along with irritating soaps, laundry detergents, perfumes and douches.
To help manage these symptoms, it’s important that we tend to our physical and mental health issues as well as eliminating the irritants noted above. There are also low-dose estrogen creams that can be applied topically, or you can insert estrogen tablets, creams or rings internally to treat the affected area. Exercising regularly keeps the blood circulating down there, and adding plant estrogens, linseeds, fish oils, and black cohosh to your diet might also be beneficial.
Depression, anxiety and mood swings
Not only are women experiencing all the physical challenges that come with low level hormones, but our emotional health may also continue to suffer. It’s common for postmenopausal women to struggle with depression or anxiety — which can also be triggered by significant life transitions that occur during this time in our lives.
It’s so important to find ways to manage our stress and practice self-care during these years when we are so susceptible to mental health issues. Creating a healthy lifestyle by staying active with fun, relaxing and meaningful pursuits while keeping connected with friends and loved ones will help cultivate positivity and purpose in your life. Professional counseling and prescription medications can be effective in treating serious symptoms.
Sleep disturbances can affect up to 60 percent of postmenopausal women, due to a variety of factors. Women often experience a growing urge to urinate, hot flashes and night sweats, anxiety, and depression, and all of these can interrupt our sleep pattern. Without the calming and sedating effects of progesterone in our system, it can be difficult to complete the sleep cycle.
Make sure you set a consistent sleep schedule, be mindful of your caffeine intake, and don’t eat or drink too late at night. Create a nighttime routine that helps you wind down, and stay off your devices before bed. Make sure your sleeping arrangements are comfortable and relaxing. If your symptoms are severe, see your doctor to rule out any other health issues, or start taking medications to help you sleep better.
It’s quite common for women to gain weight and lose muscle mass as we age. Our metabolisms slow down, and oftentimes our activity levels do too. But we can also blame our low estrogen levels on our slower metabolic rate, loss of lean muscle and increased fat storage in our midsection.
Although it’s even harder to lose weight and keep it off in our postmenopausal stage, increasing our exercise and eating a healthy diet continue to be the most effective ways to battle our postmenopausal bulge. Doing core strengthening can also tighten our tummies too.
Thinning and loss of hair
Most women will experience thinning hair on their scalp and everywhere else on their bodies during the postmenopausal years. Due to our low estrogen and progesterone hormones, our hair follicles shrink, which causes our hair to grow slower and fall out more easily. Loss of hair can result in bald spots throughout our bodies and even our vaginal area.
Eating a nutritional diet full of protein, vitamins and minerals can stimulate hair growth. Using shampoos and styling products that add volume along with a shorter, more layered haircut can give you a fuller look. Avoid tight hairstyles with corn rows, braids or ponytails that pull on your roots, because those add more strain and breakage. If your hair loss is severe, see a dermatologist to test your iron levels and thyroid, which can also affect hair growth and loss.
What postmenopausal symptoms have you experienced? Let us know in the comments below.