Menopause sucks. Even after women accept that mood swings and hot flashes are something they’ll have to endure while their reproductive system shuts down, they can get hit with unexpected side effects.
Highly rated Angie’s List providers who specialize in women’s health say hormonal imbalances are to blame for many symptoms, although some could be related to aging.
“It is sometimes difficult to separate symptoms of menopause from those of aging. For example, both men and women can have mild memory issues as they pass through midlife,” says Margery Gass, executive director of the North American Menopause Society. The organization provides information about menopause to consumers and health care providers.
Related: Fight back with these tips to combat menopause
Still, hormones affect our immune system, some cognitive functions and physical health, says Anne Marie Moore, a highly rated nurse practitioner in Eugene, Ore., who specializes in women’s health and menopause. She says hormonal imbalances can make some women more vulnerable to sleep disorders, depression, hair loss and even allergies.
Estrogen therapy can help if you don’t have a family history or high risk of breast cancer or blood clotting, Moore says. “Everyone has individual risk factors,” she says. “Some are modifiable and some aren’t.”
Menopause doesn’t officially begin until you’ve had at least 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, says Dr. Jane Lau, a highly rated obstetrician and gynecologist with IU Health in Indianapolis. On average, that occurs for women when they are about 51 years old, but it’s normal to begin the process in your early 40s, Lau says.
Following are five menopausal side effects many women don’t expect to experience, according to health care providers who spoke with Angie’s List. Some can make you question your sanity, self-confidence or attractiveness. However, if you learn their root cause and get help, they don’t have to keep you from enjoying life.
Losing your hair? Check your chin and upper lip
At first, you might think you’re losing your sight rather than your hair because surely, that can’t be a bald spot or facial hair. But many women report thinning hair on their heads and more facial hair during perimenopause. “I joke with my patients that they have less time to shave their legs so they can have more time to work on their mustache,” Moore says.
Lau says menopause doesn’t cause hair loss, but a hormonal imbalance can cause some hair follicles to resynchronize to grow, rest and shed at the same time. She adds that some women are genetically predisposed to hair loss. “People who come to me and complain about hair loss, I send to a dermatologist,” she says.
Oh dang, I forgot
Ever start a sentence and can’t recall what you wanted to say? That may be something else you didn’t know about menopause (or maybe you just forgot). Memory lapses are a side effect of lower estrogen levels, Lau says.
Unfortunately, some women say it’s also one of the most disturbing, because they fear it’s Alzheimer’s, Lau says. “Women who are high-functioning experience memory lapses and it’s worrisome to them,” she says. Before you assume the worst, consult your doctor.
I’m tired all the time
Did you have another restless night trying to sleep? Odds are, the things keeping you awake, such as night sweats or waking to urinate, are menopause related.
Moore says hormone therapy can help with night sweats and weight-bearing exercises can increase endorphins in the brain that make you feel and sleep better. She adds that small doses of vaginal estrogen and pelvic floor exercises can help decrease the urgency to pee.
Meanwhile, a good night’s sleep can help you avoid more serious problems like depression or anxiety. ”When you can’t sleep, you’re not happy,” Moore says.
Missing in action: One moist muffin
The menopausal mood swings that lead to arguments with your significant other could be a good excuse to have make-up sex — if vaginal dryness wasn’t a problem for many women. “That’s one of the symptoms that many women do not automatically link with menopause,” Gass says.
Lower estrogen levels cause some women to lose interest in sex, while others avoid it because it hurts, she says. If you value your sex life, Gass recommends talking to your doctor before the problem gets worse. “Without any sexual activity or use of hormones, the vagina can become drier and in some cases become smaller and tighter,” she says.
Why can’t I eat or do certain things anymore?
Ever wonder why something that never seemed to bother you suddenly makes you sick or causes a bad, or allergic, reaction? Moore says hormone levels affect our immune system and lower estrogen levels can diminish collagen, which keeps skin resilient and supple. And shifting hormone levels can trigger allergy symptoms like itchy, dry skin.
Hormone therapy and allergy medication may help, but lifestyle changes, such as avoiding what ails you, may be necessary, she says.