8 unusual symptoms of the menopause
Cold flushes, gum disease, electric shocks, tinnitus, a burning tongue, formication, altered spacial awareness, to name a few. You can listen to real women discussing symptoms of menopause in highlights of our Menopause Roundtable, hosted by Sarah Parish, and hormone health and menopause expert Dr Katie Hodgkinson explains these and other less common menopause symptoms.
Uncommon Menopause Symptoms
The years leading up to and including the menopause is a time of great hormonal change. Periods usually stop between the age of 45 to 55 but this can occur earlier or later than this. The transition into menopause (the peri-menopause) where the balance of hormones starts to shift is generally several years before menopause, and in some cases as long as 14 years before (you may be interested in our blog 'Get menopause ready in your 30s').
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As a result of changes in hormone activity and altered hormone levels a variety of symptoms can occur. On average women will experience 10 symptoms of menopause, and 25% of women will experience debilitating symptoms that can affect their quality of life. Others on the other hand will sail through the menopause with the blink of an eye!
Read more in 'Research shows the shocking effects of menopause'.
Some of the more well-known symptoms of the perimenopause and menopause for which supplements and treatments are available include mood changes, weight gain, brain fog and hot flushes. You can read more in 12 most common symptoms of menopause.
Read more on the mental health effects of menopause
8 Unusual Symptoms of the Menopause
Here are examples of the lesser known or more unusual symptoms which can occur during the menopause. (There may be other potential causes of these symptoms and it is advisable to have them checked out if they persist or worsen):
1. Feeling of insects crawling on the skin (formication)
This is a tactile hallucination which means that there is a physical sensation but with no physical cause. It can be annoying, and may present with a painful or mild to severe itch. 20% of women will experience formication.
Learn more in 'Research exposes shocking effects of menopause'.
2. Burning tongue
This can present with symptoms of a metallic taste, dryness, tingling and a soreness which can sometimes be severe as if the mouth is scalded. It is thought to be as a result of activation of pain-sensitive nerve cells surrounding the taste buds in the tongue that can occur as a result of lowered oestrogen. The discomfort can also occur in specific areas such as the roof of mouth or lips, or be widespread around the mouth. Approximately 10% of women will experience a burning tongue sensation.
3. Altered spatial awareness
More than 2 in 10 women are affected by altered spatial awareness. Changes in the perception of depth of vision can occur, which can affect the awareness of surroundings. This can lead to clumsiness or being more accident prone. Dry eyes and reduced concentration at this time can also contribute to this. You may enjoy our blogs: Foods & vitamins to improve your brain and 7 key nutrients to support your eye health.
4. Body odour
Hot flushes and night sweats can result in odour developing as the bacteria on the skin comes in contact with the sweat.
A change in vaginal mucus as a result of declining oestrogen can alter the balance of friendly microbes in this area. This can alter the consistency, volume and smell of any discharge. There is increased likelihood of vaginal infections, such as thrush which can smell. However there can be a heightened sense of smell in the menopause, and so the odour you can detect may not be anything that anyone else would notice! This affects 25% of women according to results of DR.VEGAN's Annual Menopause Survey, 2022.
A lack of oestrogen is also the main cause of vaginal atrophy (VA) which commonly occurs after peri-menopause or menopause - learn more in 'What is vaginal atrophy'.
This is the sensation of hearing sounds that aren’t actually present, such as ringing, whooshing or clicking. This can range from being a mild annoyance to being profoundly disturbing. Research shows 20% of women experience tinnitus during menopause.
Fluctuations in the severity of tinnitus may be linked to the rise and fall of hormone levels. It is possible that hormonal changes in the lead up to menopause may have an impact on the start of tinnitus, although a direct cause and effect link is yet to be established.
6. Electric shocks
These mild to severe jolts of pain commonly occur just before a hot flush but can be at other times too. They can feel like a shock of electricity passing through the body. Although the cause of these shocks is not completely understood, they are thought to be down to neurons misfiring in the nervous system which can be as a result of hormonal change.
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7. Gum disease
A drop in oestrogen can result in a dry mouth and reduced saliva. When there is less saliva to wash away the bacteria in the mouth, then gum disease as well as tooth decay may occur. Gums may bleed more easily or become very sensitive. Gum disease can affect 20% of women during and after menopause.
8. Cold flushes
Whereas up to 85% of women will report hot flushes, 30% will experience cold flushes or shivers. Hormonal changes in the perimenopause and menopause can alter the function of the hypothalamus. This is the part of the brain that regulates body temperature.
Cold flushes can occur spontaneously or after a hot flush, and symptoms such as feeling chilled and shivering can be exacerbated by wearing damp clothes from sweating. Hot flushes are among the 12 most common symptoms of menopause.
These are just some of the unusual but not completely uncommon symptoms of menopause which can be alongside the more common symptoms of menopause. If you are experiencing them, you're not alone so you don't need to be unduly alarmed, and if you are concerned or find symptoms worsening or persisting, consult your healthcare practitioner or GP.
Your diet can also help support you and ease symptoms through menopause - read our blog 'Nutrition for menopause relief'.
You may also enjoy 'Research exposes shocking effects of menopause'.
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Dr. Katie Hodgkinson is a GP and runs Hampshire Health & Hormones, specialising in lifestyle medicine and in particular the effects on hormones on the body.
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