15 lesser-known symptoms of menopause
When we think of the symptoms of menopause, hot flushes and irregular periods likely spring to mind. But what about those symptoms that are considered ‘less common’?
Things like dental issues, tinnitus and hearing loss, recurrent UTIs, vaginal dryness – to name but a few – can all be signs of ‘the change’. They can often go unnoticed, or put down to something else entirely, causing many women to receive a misdiagnosis.
For some clarity on the lesser-known symptoms of menopause, we chatted to Dr Louise Newson, menopause specialist and the brain behind Balance Menopause App, to explain why they occur and what we can do about them.
Lesser-known symptoms of menopause
Some symptoms of the menopause that you may not have heard of can include (but not limited to):
- Anxiety and low mood
- Uncontrollable anger
- Vaginal dryness, irritation and soreness
- Restless legs syndrome
- Tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in one or both ears) and hearing loss
- Dry and itchy skin
- Formication (feeling like insects are crawling on your skin)
- Bleeding gums
- Dry mouth or Burning Mouth Syndrome
- Halitosis (unpleasant breath) and tooth loss
- Recurrent UTIs or urinary issues
- Dry eyes
- Struggling with concentration or focus
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As Louise explains, many of these symptoms can be confused for unrelated health issues. They can often also be difficult for a woman to talk about.
“Some of the lesser-talked about symptoms are the ones affecting our mental health, such as anxiety and low mood, and even uncontrollable anger, as they can be difficult to deal with and often mistaken for clinical depression,” she says.
“Vaginal dryness, where the tissues of the vagina around surrounding tissues become sore, dry and irritated, can be debilitating for some women, but so many of us do not talk openly about it.
“Some of the more surprising symptoms include tinnitus, restless legs and skin condition called formication, where it can feel like small insects crawling on your skin, through to oral symptoms like bleeding gums, dry mouth or a burning mouth and halitosis, and even tooth loss.”
Why we should talk about all the symptoms:
While many of us don’t feel comfortable putting our menopause symptoms out into the open, talking about them is an important way to ensure you get the help you need.
Louise explains: “Traditionally a lot of emphasis has been put upon hot flushes as the menopause symptom, but while they can affect a lot of women, there is so much more to the perimenopause and menopause.
“When oestrogen levels fall, it can affect so many functions and often women won’t think a new symptom is down to the menopause. It took me several months to realise that I was perimenopausal, for example.
“I thought I was just a bit tired and irritable and stressed with work, and it wasn’t until one of my daughters asked if I was on my period that I realised I hadn’t had one for a number of months.
“Low oestrogen can affect our moods, our memory, our joints, even our teeth and gums. So that’s why it is important to be aware of the spectrum of symptoms that can occur, so that if they happen to you and they are affecting your everyday life, you can speak to a health professional for help.”
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Why do these symptoms occur and how do they impact quality of life?
The decline in oestrogen levels plays a massive role in the symptoms of menopause. That’s because oestrogen is a key player in the functioning of women’s bodies.
“We have oestrogen receptors on cells throughout our body, with hormones helping to regulate everything from our mood to our metabolism and skin, so when oestrogen levels are low, it can trigger symptoms,” Louise shares.
“If we take the example of oral symptoms, oestrogen is crucial in the healthy functioning of the supporting structures of our teeth, bones and ligaments, as well as the mucous membranes.
“A few women will have a very straightforward menopause with very few or no symptoms at all, but for many, dealing with physical or psychological symptoms can have a knock-on effect on their self-esteem, their ability to function at work and close relationships with family and friends.”
How can we treat the symptoms?
“The first-line treatment is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT is available in a variety of methods including a skin patch, gel, spray or tablet, and works by replacing the missing oestrogen and in turn should help to ease any symptoms,” Louise explains.
“It also works to improve future health. Women who take HRT have a lower future risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
“Once you start taking HRT, hot flushes and night sweats should stop within a few weeks. Vaginal and urinary symptoms can take a few months (sometimes longer) to settle. Mood and concentration should also improve within a few months.”
If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness, vaginal oestrogen may be helpful to provide relief from symptoms.
Louise continues: “Many women find using vaginal oestrogen can ease symptoms of vaginal dryness – this would need to be used long-term as vaginal dryness can persist post-menopause. These preparations can be used with or without HRT.”
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How can we rule out other conditions?
If you’re experiencing any symptoms that are worrying you, whether you suspect they are caused by the menopause or something else, you should always speak to a healthcare professional to chat about your medical history and current health.
“If a health professional suspects you might be menopausal then they will typically look at three things – your age (the average age of menopause is 51), if you are still having periods, and any other menopause-like symptoms,” says Louise.
“Keeping track of symptoms can be really beneficial: simply write them down or my free app, Balance, allows you to log symptoms and create a personalised health report to take along to medical appointments.
“If they suspect your symptoms may be due to a separate condition, then you may need further investigations to rule that out.”