From itchy skin to heavy periods, the five freakiest symptoms of menopause.
Hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, trouble sleeping: When you think of menopause, these are several of the symptoms you expect to experience. Research tends to focus on the more common side effects of “the change,” yet there are plenty of other ways your body may react to hormonal shifts—and some of them can seem downright strange. If you find yourself experiencing any of these odd manifestations of menopause, just know you’re not alone and you’re not going crazy. “Don’t be afraid to discuss any symptoms you’re having with your doctor because he’s probably heard about them before and there’s usually help,” says Dr. Machelle Seibel, co-author of Eat to Defeat Menopause.
Here, our guide to five unnerving menopause symptoms, plus expert advice for handling each one.
Strange Symptom: Itchy Skin
As estrogen levels decrease, many menopausal women experience excessive dryness in the skin, which can cause itching. A small percentage of women, though, suffer from formication, a neurological condition in which a woman perceives there are things crawling under her skin. “Estrogen and hormone receptors are on every single cell in the body, including the nerve cells under the skin,” according to Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of The Wisdom of Menopause. Erratic hormonal changes stimulate those receptors, which can lead to strange sensations like prickling, tingling or itching.
How to deal: If dryness is to blame, making a few changes to your skincare routine (such as aggressive use of moisturizer or switching to soap-free cleansers) can help. For a case of the creepy crawlies, see your doctor: Hormone replacement therapy and/or herbal supplements can stabilize the hormone shifts that may be causing this symptom.
Strange Symptom: Heavy Periods
Women going through menopause typically have irregular periods. When “that time of the month” finally does arrive, blood flow can often be shockingly heavy. During a normal period, tissue builds up in the uterus and then is sloughed off when you’re not pregnant, resulting in a period. When progesterone is not being released as often to cause that sloughing, the tissue builds up, leading to flooding. “I’ve heard stories from women who soaked through their clothing or couldn’t leave the house because the flow was so heavy,” says Northrup.
How to deal: This is a symptom that should be discussed with your doctor, as occasionally heavy bleeding can be a symptom of fibroids, cancer or other more serious conditions. More commonly, though, your physician may recommend dietary changes or perhaps going on birth control for a few months, both of which can be beneficial. Laser ablation treatments on the uterus (an outpatient procedure) are also an alternative to a hysterectomy, says Northrup.
Strange Symptom: Heart Palpitations
This is a common yet rarely discussed condition that many women begin experiencing during perimenopause—the 10 or so years before the onset of menopause. As with hot flashes, the exact cause of these episodes of irregular heartbeats isn’t fully understood, but anxiety, another common yet strange symptom of menopause, may be to blame.
How to deal: “Typically, this symptom is benign and as you move into menopause it might stop,” says Seibel, who also says estrogen therapy can help, too. If you experience any other warning signs of a heart attack, though, such as neck or jaw pain and shortness of breath, be sure to seek help right away. Otherwise, you can wait to speak with your doctor at your next appointment.
Strange Symptom: Urinary Tract Infections
Estrogen loss can cause the protective tissue surrounding the urethra to shrink. This leaves the tube through which we urinate “more exposed to the bacteria that leads to urinary tract infections,” according to Seibel.
How to deal: Hormone replacement therapy—both oral and topical treatments—can help rebuild the protective tissue surrounding the vaginal opening, while products like Replens can be applied topically to soothe any dryness and discomfort down below.
Strange Symptom: Dry Mouth
There are plenty of reasons why women experience dry mouth later in life, including certain prescription drugs or lack of hydration. Menopause may also be to blame: The mucus membranes in the mouth are also loaded with estrogen receptors, so as the body produces less of this hormone, your mouth may tend to feel less moist. Hormonal changes can also cause altered taste sensations or even a burning feeling in the mouth.
How to deal: Treating dry mouth is more important than you may think. When the mouth is dry, bacteria can easily grow, leading to tooth decay and gum disease. Also, Seibel points out that women who experience dry mouth also seem to have an increased risk of bone thinning. If you experience this symptom, you may want to talk with your doctor about checking your bone density.