health

The lesser-known symptoms of menopause no one talks about.

After experiencing occasional night sweats in the last two years, I am obsessed with finding out more about menopause, perimenopause, and the accompanying symptoms. 

The surge in high-profile women like Marian Keyes, Gillian Anderson and Trinny Woodall chatting openly about their journey through menopause has also helped to bust long-held societal myths and taboos about what it means to be menopausal.

I devour their anecdotal stories in books, on podcasts, and on social media because I find it fascinating and also because I know that while the Australasian Menopause Society says the average age for a woman to go through menopause is 51, perimenopause can start up to 10 years beforehand. 

So at 42, I need to get across it.

Watch: Supermodel Paulina Porizkova on ageing. Post continues below. 


Video via Extra TV.

Ann Fletcher, 54, a team leader for a specialist homelessness service in Newcastle, had been dealing with mild perimenopausal symptoms since her mid-forties. 

It ramped up in 2020 when she suddenly became so lethargic she could barely stay awake while driving her car.

"I had been a fit and active person and suddenly I had zero energy," Fletcher says.

"Initially, I put it down to the fact we were in a pandemic and I had my kids and grandkids all living with me. I wasn't getting a lot of sleep! But after watching an episode of the SBS show Insight about menopause and joining an online community group of women on Facebook, I knew there must be more to my lethargy."

Ann completed the Australasian Menopause Society's 'symptom checker' questionnaire and took the results to her GP. After further investigations, she was prescribed Menopausal Hormone Therapy MHT (previously known as HRT) and within 10 days, Ann says her life was transformed.

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"I got my energy back and began sleeping better and the hot flushes disappeared. While I know everyone is different, the hormone treatment was remarkably effective for me." 

Rebecca Doyle, HR Director at Opera Australia, is 49 years old. She first began experiencing perimenopausal symptoms in March 2020.

"I had gained weight, was having trouble sleeping and suffering with mood swings; someone pushing in a supermarket queue would make me irrationally angry," Doyle recalls.

"I went to see my GP, and they prescribed me HRT. I'm not sure whether it was the timing and stress of that first lockdown or just because the treatment wasn't for me, but it actually made my symptoms worse."

While swimming and intermittent fasting have since helped, it was a beautician enquiring about Rebecca's acne who suggested she try a natural remedy.

"She asked about my pimples and whether I was going through perimenopause. She recommended the Happy Hormones supplement and while not all my symptoms went away, I began sleeping better which has also helped my general anxiety."

Listen: Mamamia's daily news podcast The Quicky looks at why menopause is still considered taboo. Post continues below. 


Dr Joanna Sharp, a specialist General Practitioner who consults for online menopause clinic My Juniper, says that a change in the condition of your skin, like Rebecca experienced, could be due to hormonal fluctuations associated with menopause. 

"When we think of menopause, we often think of the common symptoms such as hot flushes, vaginal dryness, low mood and weight gain, but there are actually quite a few other symptoms to consider," Dr Sharp says. 

Dr. Sharp says that while 20 percent of women will sail through menopause, 80 percent will experience symptoms and 25 percent of them will be severe.

She says that these three 'invisible' and unusual symptoms, not commonly associated with perimenopause and menopause, are worth looking out for:

1. Formication.

"The word formication comes from the Latin word 'formica' which means ant. So this is literally the feeling of having ants crawling on or under your skin which is very unpleasant. This is because of the change in your hormones and dry skin and it may cause intense itching and irritation." 

2. Brain fog and lightheadedness.

"Similar to 'baby brain' or the changes that your brain goes through as a teenager, brain fog is a completely normal part of menopause and the shift in hormones. It is hard to say what causes the lightheadedness but again it could be the change in your hormone levels."

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3. Joint pain.

"As oestrogen levels drop during menopause, inflammation of the joint can increase and cause pain. Old injuries or diseases may contribute to joint pain, so I would always suggest further investigation to discover the cause."

Dr Sharp says that the key to dealing with perimenopause and menopause is to consider that every woman experiences different symptoms and it's essential to seek professional advice to consider your overall health during midlife.

"It's a very individual journey. I often refer to it as the 'menopuzzle' and so my patients and I work together on their unique treatment plan to bring all the pieces together," Dr Sharp says.

"This might include factoring in lifestyle elements such as adding more calcium to their diet or doing strength and weight based exercise." 

Dr Sharp believes that there is still too much fear and shame around midlife and menopause and that it should instead be a time to refocus on what you want from life.

"When we go through puberty, we learn about this phase of life at school. When we have babies, we go to antenatal classes. We need an equivalent for menopause to help ease fear and embrace and celebrate the change."

Rebecca Doyle agrees that we need to be more open about menopause symptoms to help change the narrative and encourage more women to seek help.

"Considering all women have to go through menopause, it seems crazy to me that we don't talk about it more. I think this represents the fact that many female health issues have been neglected for too long.

"There has long been this feeling of embarrassment or shame around menopause, which is ridiculous when you consider what a privilege it is to age. 

"We are good at celebrating the teenage years and pregnancy and birth, so why not menopause?"

If this story affects you, contact your GP or health care provider to book a long consult and to find out more about the treatment options. 

To find out more about menopausal symptoms and treatment options, visit the Australasian Menopause Society website.

Feature Image: Getty.

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