Tag Archives: Menopause

Symptoms of Peri-menopause

According to this website there are 34 symptoms of peri-menopause, some like hot flushes most of us know about and some which to me have come as a huge surprise.  So that you can all compare your Change to mine I thought I’d go through my experience of these symptoms but, more importantly, talk about the ones which I haven’t as yet had.  When you read about peri-menopause online you only really get the horror stories but it’s not inevitable that you’ll turn into Norman Bates’ evil twin – no, it’s much more likely you’ll just become a grumpy old git with a disappearing waistline 😉

Common Menopause Symptoms

Hot Flushes/Flashes

Remarkably I haven’t had these as yet, for which I am truly thankful.  However, they are actually more common in the first two years after Menopause, ie when periods have stopped, so there’s time yet!  Having said all that, as I’ve recently documented I’ve definitely been having vasomotor symptoms which feel a bit like I’m having a stroke and are massively scary – I just don’t flush.  So maybe I’m having my own, unique, version of the flushes just without the heat.

Night Sweats

I’ve had night sweats for about the past 7 years, but only in my period week.  Strangely enough, now I’m approaching Menopause they aren’t as bad as they used to be, so this symptom is again not one I’ve had huge problems with.

Irregular Periods

When I’ve been reading about peri-menopause online I’ve often seen the question “how do I know I’m in peri-menopause?” and think to myself “really?!”  If you’re in your forties and your menstrual cycle starts to change in any way, the likelihood is that your hormones are off to pastures new.  Of course there are other reasons for period changes, but when it’s peri-menopause related you kind’ve just know.  My cycles are currently all over the place, with last month’s being 40 days and this month’s being 22 days.

Loss of Libido

Hell-to-the-no 😉  In fact, there are times in the month I am so horny I could shag the dog.  Being single, of course, my rampant sex drive is wasted which seems a bit of a shame, however in reality my endometriosis is so painful sex would probably be out of the question.

Vaginal Dryness

I’ve definitely had this, but only at certain times of the month – it’s not currently permanent.  It doesn’t feel like I expected either and for me I only know it’s happening because my undies rub and irritate me and this can cause my lady garden to become sore.  A smearing of K-Y Jelly, which stings like a son-of-a-bitch when first applied, has been helpful.

Mood Swings

Over the 7 years of my peri-menopause I’ve had five massive rages however they were all due to my alcoholic Mother so would probably have happened irrespective of my hormones.  There are times of the month I can feel a bit weepy or tetchy for a few days, but then I’ve always been like that so it’s not something unique to peri-menopause.  I feel hugely thankful that my mood has so far been fairly stable, though of course this may change as the actual Menopause gets closer.

Other Changes

Fatigue

As I already have severe chronic fatigue I haven’t noticed this as a symptom anywhere near as much as if I’d been healthy.  However, a couple of years ago my fatigue became absolutely poleaxing but this turned out to be because of low ferritin stores and has improved dramatically following iron supplementation.  So if fatigue becomes troublesome look for alternative explanations – low iron is common in peri-menopause as bleeding can become heavier.

Hair Loss

I’ve never had thick hair but started losing my hair in earnest in my mid forties.  MCAD can also cause hair loss so I’ve no idea if I would have lost quite so much hair if I didn’t have that, but it’s not something I’m going to get hung up on.  Hair extensions and wigs are brilliant these days so I just bought myself some fake hair and got on with it.

Sleep Disorders

Again, because I already had insomnia due to my ME and MCAD it’s hard to know how much my sleep has been affected by peri-menopause.  I actually went through a couple of years of sleeping brilliantly, probably the best for 20 years, but now I seem to have insomnia again in particular waking at 4 or 5am and not being able to drop back off.  I just accept it as one of those things and am so used to being sleep deprived it doesn’t hugely affect my day.

Difficulty Concentrating

Yet again, I’m already completely brain fogged due to my existing illnesses and don’t think this has gotten massively worse.  When you’re not sleeping well it affects daytime concentration too, so my focusing problems are probably as a result of many factors not just peri-menopause.

Memory Lapses

Er, what was the question again? 😉  My memory has definitely gone to shit.  It was never good to start with, 25 years of M.E. brain fog has seen to that, but there are now days when it’s so bad I feel like a Dementia patient.

Dizziness

This has been one of the worst symptoms for me.  I can spend whole weeks feeling dizzy and disorientated every waking second of the day.  In fact, the second I opened my eyes this morning and the room swerved I knew today would be a dizzy day.  It’s just something I put up with and pray eases soon.

Weight gain

I have gained half a stone (7lbs) in the last year, which doesn’t sound a lot but has meant I’ve had to go up a dress size.  The reason for this is that I have the raging munchies and go through cycles where even Bert’s dog biscuits look tempting.  I have zero self-control, even though I know that once the weight is on it will be really hard to shift, and these are the times I’m glad I live 7 miles from the nearest shop otherwise I would have gained 10 stone 😉

Incontinence

Thankfully I can still hold my wee, though the fact I’ve never given birth has probably helped.  I pee for England, including having to get up at least once in the night, but don’t leak.

Bloating

The word “bloated” doesn’t do this symptom justice.  My breasts are, at times, so swollen I could float on water and I looks 5 months pregnant.  I pee, and pee, and pee and still look and feel like the Michelin Man.

Allergies

My life changed forever when my hormones started to decline and my mast cell activation took up residence.  Enough said.

Brittle nails

My nails, like my hair, have always been rubbish and I can’t see that peri-menopause has made a huge difference.  In any event, who the fuck worries about their nails?!  Get a life.  Having said that, a couple of years ago I noticed my toe nails has started to split right down the middle and the ends had all flattened out.  This is a symptom of anaemia and sure enough my iron stores were really low, so if you notice these kids of signs my advice would be to get some blood work done.

Changes in Odor

I live on my own, so I’ve no-one to tell me if I’ve suddenly started to smell like rotting fish.  I am aware, though, that body odor can change during middle age so am more liberal with deodorants and perfume than I used to be, but I think this applies to both sexes not just women – my Dad certainly has an “old man” pong no matter how often he showers.

Irregular Heartbeat

This is one symptom I can definitely relate to and is really common.  I’ve had palpitations as part of my M.E. for donkeys years but they got so bad in my mid forties I had a 24 hour holter monitor done.  I was convinced I had some kind of heart problem, but although the ectopic/skippy/thumpy beats showed up on the test they were deemed to be normal and just part of the peri-menopause.   They’ve thankfully now settled down a bit and aren’t as frequent or severe as they were.

Depression

I’m so thankful that I haven’t suffered with this symptom and mood-wise am just my usual grumpy arsed self 😉

Anxiety &/or Panic

I’m not an anxious person in general, but have definitely noticed I can become suddenly anxious for absolutely no good reason.  Anxiety can be a symptom of mast cell activation too though, so I’m never sure whether it’s my hormones or my mast cells that are playing up.  It hasn’t been too troublesome though and I just accept it as part of the process, tell myself that “this too shall pass” and try not to panic over the fact I feel panicky, which is often easier said than done.

Irritability

All I will say about this symptom is that Victor Meldrew and I must be related only in my house there’s a lot more swearing 😀

Pains

It’s been the pain symptoms of peri-menopause which have come as a shock to me as I simply wasn’t expecting some of them.

Breast Pain

Holy Mary Mother of God my boobs are sore.  Chronically, stupidly sore, all of the time.  I hardly ever wear a bra these days as they’re so uncomfortable and have been known to rub Ibuleve gel into my breasts to try and gain some relief.  It’s like PMT breast tenderness on steroids.

Headaches

My battle with migraine is well documented and is mostly hormone related.  My migraines haven’t become particularly more frequent as a result of peri-menopause, but they’ve definitely become more painful, last longer and now often include vomiting.  Along with my endometriosis and adenomyosis this is one symptom I’m praying to God will lessen when I’ve finally gone through The Change.

Joint Pain

My joints went to hell on a handcart when I first started with peri-menopause at the age of 43.  Obviously I also have hEDS, so I’ve no idea if my joints would have been so badly affected if I were healthy, but I’m definitely doing the old lady thing of “oompfing” as I get out of the chair and can no longer bend to put on my socks or shoes.  I feel like I’ve aged 20 years in the last 5.

Burning Tongue

This is another tricky symptom, because I have GERD and if acid backs up into the oesophagus and/or mouth it can cause a burning sensation so I’ve no clue if my burning mouth is due to my reflux or my hormones.

Electric Shocks

This symptom was completely unexpected, particularly as it only affects my breasts.  The stabbing, electric shocks became so bad that my GP sent me for an early mammogram last year as it’s not something widely considered to be linked to the menopause, but all was fine and the pain is less frequent now than it was a couple of years ago.

Digestive problems

I have digestive issues by the truck load already and haven’t noticed they are any worse than they were five years ago.

Gum problems

Many people in middle age start to suffer from receding gums, so I personally wouldn’t say this is down to peri-menopause, just age.  Yes I lost my first adult tooth at 48, but then my best mate’s hubby did too and he isn’t peri-menopausal although my mate says he’s definitely having a mid life crisis 😉

Muscle Tension

If you have depression, panic or anxiety as a symptom of peri-menopause it stands to reason you will notice muscle tension so I’m not convinced this is a symptom in its own right.  I also think that even some healthy women have mast cell issues during peri-menopause, with things like new allergies, hives, eczema and itching, and again muscle tension is a symptom of mast cell activation.  I have definitely noticed more muscle spasms in the past five years, but then my MCAD has gone nuclear so it was fairly much inevitable and not down to peri-menopause per se, though my hormones are probably the reason my MCAD went nuts.

Itchy skin

My itchy skin drives me bonkers some days, but it’s part of having MCAD so again it’s not a symptom I associate with peri-menopause.  Having said all that, the one symptom not mentioned in the list of 34 is dry skin, which amazes me because it’s something nearly all menopausal women notice and dry skin can also be itchy.  I’ve always had beautiful, flawless skin, it’s the only good thing about having hEDS, but I feel like my skin has aged ten years in the past two and is horribly dry and lifeless.  My whole life I’ve never had the need to bother much with moisturizer, but now I put it on twice a day otherwise my skin feels as tight as a duck’s arse.  My skin has also sagged and wrinkled at an alarming rate and I suddenly look, and feel, every one of my 50 years.  Yay.

Tingling Extremities

Having had pins & needles in my hands and feet for the better part of a quarter of a century I’m probably not the best person to ask about tingling extremities.

Osteoporosis

My maternal Gran, my Mum, her Sister and a maternal Cousin all had osteoporosis by the time they were 52 so this is something I’m probably going to develop.  On the NHS bone density isn’t usually checked until a woman is over 50 even with a family history, however as hEDS is also a risk factor I’ve already had two bone density scans in my forties which were thankfully both fine.  It will be interesting to see, however, what my next one shows in two years time as by then I should be post-menopausal.

Excluded Symptoms

There are some symptoms which, IMHO, have been left out of the list of 34.  One is dry skin which I’ve already mentioned and the other is changes to flow.  My periods don’t last any longer than they always have, but they are definitely heavier and often really clotty.  Other times the blood can be bright red, like I’ve cut myself, and I’m also more prone to sluggish brown smears/spotting both before and after my actual period.  Even if your cycles are still regular, if you’re in your forties and start noticing changes in the consistency of your flow chances are you’re starting in peri-menopause.

Your body also changes shape.  Even if your weight stays the same your waist may suddenly disappear.  I’ve always had a curvy, hourglass figure with a well defined middle but seemingly overnight my waist did a bunk and I now I’m starting to look matronly and chunky.

Something else which hasn’t been mentioned is apathy.  I don’t feel in any way depressed and I’m not lacking in motivation but some days my get-up-and-go simply gets-up-and-leaves.  Maybe this is a fatigue thing but I just can’t be arsed to do stuff, in particular housework or cooking………in fact, any of the “shoulds”.  I know I should be doing the laundry and instead I’m either sat on my lardy arse stuffing my face with Wine Gums and watching Teen Mom, or I’m in my ‘studio’ taking photographs, which is fine until I go to get dressed and realize I’ve no clean pants.  Or socks.  Or much of anything else, which turns into an excuse to stay in my jim jams and watch more telly.  Maybe getting old isn’t so bad after all 😉

Conclusion

So far my journey through peri-menopause hasn’t been the hellish experience my Mum warned me about and I seem to be doing OK.  I personally think it’s all about expectation.  By the time I was in my mid forties I expected to be starting peri-menopause so that when it happened it didn’t come as any kind of shock.  I’m gobsmacked at the amount of women I read about online who are 48 and seem surprised their periods have suddenly gone awry – surely to goodness all women expect to start The Change by their late forties, and it actually begins much earlier for many of us.

Already suffering from chronic illness also prepares you for changes to your hormones.  Healthy people who suddenly find themselves exhausted, itchy, stiff and in pain, and who develop palpitations, dizziness and insomnia, must think their world is coming to an end, but when you’ve already had these symptoms for years it’s just business as usual for the most part.  Trust me when I say I’ve been way more sick than I am now.

There are definitely parts of my transition which are crap, like my migraines and dizziness, and they have absolutely affected my life but not to the point where I feel like I can’t cope.  I’ve been hugely lucky so far in that my mood has remained fairly stable which is one of the things which worried me the most, and so far the dreaded hot flushes haven’t put in an appearance.  Of course, no-one could predict that my waning hormones would set off my dormant mast cell disease causing all hell to break loose and I was clueless as to the fact that it would impact my hEDS quite as much as it has, but my M.E. has so far been largely unaffected though I know that’s not the case for some.

I was anticipating becoming a depressed, irritable, exhausted, fat mess by the time I was 50 and although there’s still time for this to happen so far I’m just grateful I still feel my usual kind, happy but grumpy self albeit a bit thicker and saggier around the edges.  It could be worse.

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Aging and chronic illness

As most of you know, I turn 50 shortly and while that’s not exactly old it’s not exactly young either. In the decade since my 40th birthday my joints have starting subluxing, I’ve developed stiffness so severe at times I can’t even walk to the loo, my back pain is so bad it both scares me and stops me sleeping, and my previously unknown MCAD has reared its ugly head, to the point where at one stage I actually thought I would die from multiple anaphylactic events every day.  Make no mistake, getting older when you’re already chronically ill sucks.

I have the utmost respect for anyone who works for a charity having done it myself for many years, and know I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the wonderful people working for EDS and M.E. organizations, however I do have a bit of a beef with them and it’s this: all their information is aimed at either kids or young adults (and by young I mean pre-menopausal).  Their magazines are full of young folks doing sports, fundraising by whatever means possible and generally being positive and not letting their disease beat them.  Which is great.  But speak to them again in 20 years time and they might be telling a very different tale.

Did you know there is not a single piece of research that’s been carried out on older people with either EDS or M.E.?  There is loads of info on possible complications in pregnancy yet not a thing on the Menopause, despite the fact that not all women will have babies yet all women will go through The Change!  I find this utterly shocking, particularly in the case of EDS where patient forums show that many women aren’t diagnosed until their forties because that’s when their symptoms seem to go nuts (as did mine).  Consequently there are no information leaflets from the charities on what to expect as we age, which is actually quite discriminatory.  I should really sue, if I could find a solicitor to take the case 😀

Due to an absolute lack of information on aging with my diseases I have no idea what to expect.  Even healthy women can struggle with joint pain, exhaustion, dizziness and stiffness at Menopause so when I have these symptoms I don’t know if they’re normal or part of my hEDS.  I don’t know if they’ll pass or if I should be concerned and ask to see a Rheumy.  I don’t know if I have a greater chance of wear and tear arthritis, though I assume I must have.  I have no clue if the extra exhaustion I feel is part of my waning hormones or whether age is negatively affecting my M.E.  Will my decades of inactivity adversely affect my heart and, if so, why is that not being monitored?  Am I more, or less, likely to have a stroke?  What’s the deal on osteoporosis?  Skin thins with age, so will mine be worse as a result of having hEDS?  Am I more likely to bruise as my veins, skin and capillaries weaken?  And 200 other questions I don’t know the answers to.

Health in general seems to be all about either children or pregnant women.  No-one seems to give much of a stuff about issues which affect the middle aged.  It’s almost like we don’t exist, and it’s not until we’re in our seventies and at risk of old age diseases like Alzheimers that the medical profession starts to give a stuff again (my Dad’s dementia care, for example, has been excellent yet I’ve never once had my memory problems evaluated let alone treated).

At the moment I feel like I’m dropping to bits, but is that a normal hormone-induced dropping to bits or is my hEDS actually deteriorating?  Should I be pushing for a referral or just putting up and shutting up?  There is an urgent need for studies on chronic illness in the older age bracket.  We need to know if there should be more regular monitoring of our conditions, whether treatments which are affective in younger adults are still as effective in older adults, and most importantly what the normal progression of our diseases should look like as we age because unless we know what’s normal we can’t know what’s abnormal.

Of course, the lack of information on hEDS and M.E. is nothing in comparison to the lack of information on MCAD, particularly in the UK.  Peri-menopause has caused my mast cells to go off the charts bonkers yet I haven’t seen a specialist since I was diagnosed 4 years ago.  I’m not being monitored in any way, am having to treat myself in the best way I know how, and am basically white knuckling it with no idea what my post-menopausal future will hold.  Which is scary considering MCAD may pre-dispose me to leukemia and other cancers and carries the daily risk of sudden death from anaphylaxis.  Or MCAD may not predispose me to cancer – noone knows, which is kind’ve my point! It seems that, in respect of the middle aged, no-one knows much of anything when it comes to my diseases and that, as a matter of urgency, has to change.

 

 

 

The M Word

Last week, Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark appeared in a documentary on the Menopause.  To be honest it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know but it was nice to hear about another woman’s experience because we just don’t talk about it in this country, not even amongst ourselves.  Yet it will happen to every single one of us.  I remember joining my Camera Club and was talking to a woman there in her early 60s.  I was rampantly hormonal that night and got confused so said jokingly “ignore me, I’ve got Menopause brain” and her eyes nearly popped out of her head that I would mention the ‘M’ word in polite conversation.

Historically, women’s hormones have been a taboo subject because we’ve lived in a male dominated world, even though men are currently in a 48% minority here in the UK.  Yes we had a female Prime Minister in the form of Margaret Thatcher but she only rose to power because she acted like a man, which kind’ve defeated the entire purpose of having a woman in charge.  Girls have always been seen as emotional, hysterical creatures simply because we behave differently to men and anyone who shows emotions is still seen as weak and not to be relied upon – then we wonder why mental health issues affect 1 in 3 people :-/

Women are just supposed to get on with their periods.  The adverts on tv tell us if we only use x brand of tampon we’ll be running marathons or climbing mountains, and if we pop a Feminax Ultra we won’t know what pain is.  Thankfully for some women this is the case but for others periods are a form of 4 weekly torture and going about our day business as usual is jut not possible.  This of course intensifies during Menopause yet we’re supposed to act like nothing is happening.  We are, thankfully, now sympathetic to puberty-induced erratic behaviour, door slamming and crying fits, and pregnant women are allowed days off work if they’re unwell, but the Menopause is still ignored and I can’t for the life of me understand why.  It’s the largest bodily change in any woman’s life and can cause absolute havoc.

We aren’t even honest about Menopause amongst ourselves.  When my periods first started to change and I suspected peri-menopause I went to see my (female) GP who said “well it’s a bit early but it only lasts 2 years then it will all be over with” which even I knew was a big fat lie!  Six years on and there is still no sign that my periods are about to stop for good.  The biggest shock of the documentary for me was to hear that at age 61, and ten years after The Change, Kirsty still has Menopause symptoms in particular the fact that she still doesn’t sleep well.  The myth that our periods stop and that’s the end of that may be true for some women, but certainly not for all.  In a phone-in for the documentary a 72 year old woman rang up to say she was still having hot flushes every single day of her life twenty years after her final period and I remember my paternal Grandmother started to sweat profusely following Menopause and didn’t stop ’til the day she died.  My own Mum’s vagina atrophied so much in her mid seventies that she was prescribed oestrogen pessaries and her (female) Gynaecologist joked “women were supposed to die shortly after Menopause, so to be honest we’ve no idea how to treat hormone-induced symptoms in old people!” which tells you everything you need to know about the lack of information given to medical students in respect to older women and the female-related issues they face.

I don’t particularly want to celebrate my Menopause but I have no intention of ignoring it either.  I will bring it up in conversation if I feel the need and people can be as shocked as they like.  I won’t beat myself up, or apologise for, feeling irrational or emotional and will pamper myself when I’m feeling physically crap.  I won’t be hard on myself when I’m fatter at 55 than I was at 45, or joke about needing an afternoon nap.   All this is normal and it’s about time society recognized this huge transition in women’s lives and made allowances.