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The Main Symptoms of Menopause and What Really Causes Them

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Almost all women will experience some symptoms during menopause, however, the duration and the severity of the symptoms you experience will vary. Here we’re going to take a look at some of the most common symptoms you may experience during menopause and how long you can expect them to last.
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms of menopause. Hot flashes are being taken more seriously, because of their association with increased inflammation, heart disease, and risk of dementia. The exact causes are still unknown, but Ray Peat, a hormone researcher believes the cause of hot flashes maybe because there is estrogen, unopposed by progesterone in the body.
It has been known for a long time, from studies in animals and people, that estrogen lowers body temperature, and that this involves a tendency to increase blood flow to the skin in response to a given environmental temperature, that is, the temperature “set-point” is lowered by estrogen. Besides increasing heat loss, estrogen decreases heat production. These physiological effects of estrogen can be seen in the normal menstrual cycle, with progesterone having the opposite effect of estrogen on metabolic rate, skin circulation, body temperature, and heat loss. This causes the familiar rise in temperature when ovulation occurs. Occasionally, young women will experience hot flashes during the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle because of insufficient progesterone production, or at menstruation, when the corpus luteus stops producing progesterone.” – Dr. Ray Peat PhD
Some individuals may also find they experience night sweats, which may be severe enough to drench their bedsheets. Dress in loose and light clothing during the day and night and try to keep your home cool to minimize these symptoms.
Heart Palpitations
Due to the change in your hormone levels, you may experience heart palpitations during menopause. Dr. Ray Peat Ph.D. believes heart palpitations may be caused by a hormone imbalance between estrogen and progesterone.
Some problems that become very common by middle age are “palpitations,” orthostatic hypotension, orthostatic tachycardia, and varicose veins. The negative inotropic effect of estrogen in the heart has a parallel in the smooth muscle of veins, in which the muscles are weakened, and their distensibility increased, when estrogen isn’t sufficiently opposed by progesterone. This allows the veins in the lower part of the body to be distended abnormally when standing, reducing the amount of blood returning to the heart, so that the volume pumped with each stroke is small, requiring faster beating. The reduced blood volume reaching the brain can cause fainting. When it becomes chronic, it can lead to the progressive distortion of the veins. An excess of estrogen is associated with varicose veins in men, as well as women. (Raj, 2006; Ciardullo, et al., 2000; Kendler, et al., 2009; Asciutto, et al., 2010; Raffetto, et al., 2010).
Migraines and Headaches
If you regularly struggled with headaches and migraines in the past, you may find these are impacted by menopause. Some women actually find their migraines are less severe, especially when they were previously linked to their menstrual cycle. However, many women find they experience horrible migraines for the first time during this time. The cause of headaches during menopause is believed to be unopposed estrogen. When bioidentical progesterone is taken, headaches often resolve.
Breast Swelling And Tenderness
The hormonal changes in your body cause fluid to build up in your breasts. This can make them feel tender and swollen, and these changes are often more noticeable during perimenopause. The presence of fibrocystic breasts in the premenopausal phase is sufficient evidence of unopposed estrogen and should be treated with adequate doses of natural progesterone. When this is done, the fibrocystic problem usually disappears in 2-3 months, as does mastodynia.
Loss of Sexual Desire and Painful Intercourse A common concern during menopause is a loss of sexual desire. Many women experience vaginal dryness, making intercourse more painful than before. The change to your sexual drive can be attributed to the loss of testosterone and estrogen during menopause, and you may find you are less sensitive to touch than before. Dr. John Lee MD has a compelling through as to why female sex drive decreases.
“The female sex drive often falls during premenopausal period when anovulatory period develop, indicating that libido is more likely to be linked to progesterone than to estrogen. During the menopausal phase, however, the sex drive may become heightened, creating the paradox of sexual urges coinciding with vaginal dryness and atrophy which make intercourse uncomfortable, even painful. This increase in libido may result from the increased androgen synthesis secondary to progesterone deficiency. Often, supplementation with proper doses of natural progesterone not only maintains libido but restores a healthy vagina. In some cases, the addition of low-dose estrogen (preferably by estriol applied intravaginally) may also be needed for the vaginal dryness. It is a false assumption that enjoyment of sex should be denied to the postmenopausal woman.” -Dr. John Lee MD
Urinary Symptoms
Some women experience various urinary symptoms during menopause, including pain when urinating or a need to go to the bathroom more than usual. This is also due to the change in your estrogen levels, which may cause more pressure around your urethra.
Changes to Your Skin
Menopause can cause a wide range of changes to your skin, as your body has stopped producing as much collagen. You may lose some of the fat underneath your skin, and you’ll likely find your skin’s elasticity is reduced. On top of that, many women find that hormonal changes cause dry skin.
Bone Loss
Progesterone is incredibly important for protecting our bones, and when these levels drop during menopause, this can lead to bone loss. Dr. John Lee MD goes on to describe the causes of bone loss in menopausal women below.
“Bone formation in the adult woman is the function of progesterone, not estrogen. In my clinical experience since 1982, I have found that osteoporosis can be reversed in many women by restoring adequate natural progesterone along with a program of diet, a few vitamin and mineral supplements, and exercise. Several of the synthetic progestins have a modest effect. 6,7 (at most a 5% increase bone mass in two years) but none are as effective as natural progesterone is (typically a 15% increase in 2-3 years, depending on degree of previous bone loss) with or without supplemental estrogen. 8,9 Further, the progestins are known to cause many side effects whereas natural progesterone has no known side effects.” – Dr. John Lee MD
Mood Swings and Fuzzy Thinking
One of the most challenging parts of menopause is dealing with mood swings and fuzzy thinking. These often come out of nowhere and can be a huge challenge for your partner or family members. Dr. John Lee, MD explains why mood swings occur in menopausal women.
“Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) refers to a group of symptoms consistently occurring during the 10-14 days before menses and clearing 2-3 days after the onset of menses. These symptoms include depression, irritability, anger, other mood swings, headache, fatigue, edema, and consequent weight gain, and loss of libido. The timing of these symptoms corresponds precisely to the time when, under normal circumstances, progesterone should be the dominant hormone. If progesterone, however, is absent, then estrogen dominance prevails throughout the menstrual month. Side effects of unopposed estrogen include many of the symptoms listed above. In addition, the lack of progesterone would upset the complex interplay between the hypothalamus and the pituitary, and lead to the full display of PMS symptoms. Thus, PMS may result in whole or in great part from anovulatory cycles in sensitive women whose emotional and physiological balance is upset by stress and/or improper diet. When sufficient natural progesterone is available during the 10-14 days before menses, along with a diet avoiding stimulants, caffeine, sugar, or highly refined starches, PMS symptoms will disappear or be greatly reduced. In some cases, small supplements of magnesium and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) are also helpful.”- Dr. John Lee MD
Insomnia Finally, another issue that many women struggle with during menopause is insomnia. Combined with feeling hot at night, this can make for a very unpleasant night’s sleep.
How Long Will These Symptoms Last?
Menopause symptoms usually begin a few months or years before you stop having your period, during a time that’s referred to as perimenopause. For most women, the symptoms then continue for about three or four years after their last period, but some women even experience them for up to a decade. When someone enters menopause suddenly, for example, following medical treatment, they may find their symptoms are worse.
The symptoms of menopause vary from woman to woman, but by making yourself aware of the symptoms listed above, you can offer yourself the assistance you need during this time. Contact us today for more information about how we can support you during menopause.