Recently a community member posted a question on HealthCentral’s Alzheimer’s site about her mother, who is 55. The mother had been diagnosed by a doctor with Alzheimer’s. The daughter, who questioned this diagnosis, said her mother was having some memory loss (like forgetting where she put her keys or how to get to the bank), although she was not having any problems with her daily routine, speaking, writing or reading. She knows time and place and isn’t having difficulty with judgment, changes in behavior or loss of initiative. In addition, the concerned daughter said the mother was experiencing body pain, nausea, dizziness, skin issues, sleep issues, chronic headaches, chest pain and fatigue, difficulty breathing after some exertion, vision problems and weight gain. The mother also has had hysterectomy. The concerned daughter wondered if her mother might be dealing with fibromyalgia.
I’m not a medical doctor and fibromyalgia very well may be the ultimate diagnosis. But based on what I’ve learned (and offered in my answer to this community member), menopause also may play a role in some of the mother’s health issues, especially if the mother recently had her hysterectomy. Why do I suggest this is as possibility? Listen to what the professionals who work in this area of women’s health have to say about both surgical menopause and regular menopause.
Let’s start with Dr. Holly Thacker, who is the director of the Center for Specialized Women’s Health of the Cleveland Clinic. In her book, The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause, Dr. Thacker stated, "One of every six to ten women whose ovaries were removed during a hysterectomy is thrown into a tailspin during menopause. Not only are her hormones out of balance, her body may be depleted of estrogen and testosterone." That pretty much sounds like what is happening to the reader's mother.
So let's start with the memory issues. Dr. Margery Gass, the executive director of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), recently wrote a blog pointing to a recently published memory study found that women who were nearing menopause who felt they were having memory problems actually did worse on assessments for attention, working memory, encoding a memory and verbal skills. In addition, they had more symptoms of depression, anxiety and sleep issues than women who didn’t identify having a lot of memory problems.
Dr. Gass pointed out that there is good news in that the brain fog will lift. She pointed to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health that was reported by AARP. This study, which was reported in 2009, followed 2,362 women between the ages of 42-52 over a four-year period as they went through menopause. Researchers assessed the women’s memory, learning and mental processing speed at regular intervals during the span of the study. The researchers’ findings were:
- Assessments of premenopausal, early menopausal (which included women who didn’t have a gap in menstrual periods longer than three months) and postmenopausal women improved.
- Interestingly, the only group that did not do better on tests over time included the women who were closest to menopause.
And what about some of the other issues that the community member described? In her book, Dr. Thacker also described a case study of a woman who described having issues with unpredictable and uncontrollable panic attacks, a racing heartbeat, numbness in legs and arms, and sleeplessness. This woman said that she visited a physician who specialized in women’s health who conducted a complete physical exam, gynecological exam, hormonal assessment and series of tests. The results found that the woman’s symptoms were associated with hormone fluctuations, the onset of menopause and panic disorder. (Dr. Thacker described this woman as going through a normal menopause, as opposed to one that was surgically induced.)