So what changes in your body can be attributed to menopause? It seems like people aren’t quite sure.
In a story entitled "Medical Mystery - or Just Menopause?" in the March 2011 issue of O Magazine, Meryl Davids Landau reported that some women have experienced different physical conditions (like panic attacks) during perimenopause. These conditions ended once their menstrual periods did. Other conditions described by women who were going throguh perimenopause included sore joints, dizziness, irritability, increased seasonal allergies, a sudden inability to breathe, a sensation of internal shaking, buzzing in the brain, a burning sensation in the tongue, and heart palpitations. Landau suggests that the relationship between these less well-known conditions and menopause hasn’t been addressed yet by researchers since they have been focused on the more common symptoms such as hot flashes. However, if you suddenly experience some of these symptoms (especially heart palpitations), you should talk with your doctor.
Changing estrogen levels can wreak havoc in the body, according to Dr. Holly L. Thacker in her book, The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause. "Other body systems are affected by estrogen levels, too, so it’s easy to understand why menopause gets its tentacles into so many areas of physical, mental, and emotional function," Thacker wrote. "Unfortunately, we usually don’t realize how important estrogen is to maintaining physical and mental balance until we are running on empty. Then, strange symptoms often suggest that something different is going on in the body." For instance, estrogen affects blood flow in the brain as well as mood. Thacker explained that high levels of this hormone boost verbal memory and improve how the brain processes information. Low levels of estrogen may lower the amount of serotonin; this change may lead to depression and anxiety.
It may take a while for women to figure out why weird changes keep happening. "Perimenopause usually begins in a woman’s 40s, sometimes lasting as long as eight to ten years," Thacker explained. "This does not mean that over this entire period you will notice signs of the onset of menopause." Because of wildly changing estrogen levels during perimenopausal, over-the-counter tests as well as tests performed by a doctor may be inaccurate, according to Barbara Seaman and Laura Eldridge in The No-Nonsense Guide to Menopause. "As one group of doctors explains, ‘No one symptom or test is accurate enough by itself to rule in or rule out perimenopause. Clinicians should diagnose perimenopause based on menstrual history and age without relying on laboratory test results.’"
Furthermore, women may not recognize short-term symptoms until the last few years of perimenopause due to the dramatic and rapid decline in estrogen production at this stage. I can vouch for that since it took some time for me to link uncharacteristic wild mood swings/crying jags that happened during the same time in my menstrual cycle to the onset of menopause. Seaman and Eldridge stress that women should write down what they are experiencing in order to track how their bodies are acting differently. This process will help women understand what is happening and also give them an accurate account to share with their doctors.
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.