Menopause Aches and Pains
Aches and pains are usually the body’s way of indicating that something is wrong. But having said that, we must note that aches and pains grow more common in older people as muscles and joints age. Just like a young child or adult give a little grunt as they got up out of a chair or stooped to pick up something.
Aches and pains can mean lots of things.
When there is inflammation, it indicates that the body is trying to repair injured tissue, which may have gotten that way by overuse or underuse. Inflammation in the joints is called arthritis; in the tendons, tendinitis; in the bursae (small sacs that cushion the movements of muscles), bursitis. Pain is a cardinal sign of inflammation for any number of reasons–nerves relay.
Cramps or spasms are sudden contractions that may occur in any muscle and at any age. They occur most often in the calves of your legs, feet, and fingers and are usually due to a mineral deficiency like calcium, magnesium, or potassium. Hormone imbalances also cause leg cramps.
Women are more likely to have muscle cramps during and after menopause. This is because the circulatory system which, in youth, is adequate enough to carry off the blood chemicals that are generated by fatigue no longer does its job as well as we age.
Cramps in the legs and feet seem to occur most often at night, in bed, and can usually be alleviated if you stand up flat on the floor. Gently stretch the area during a cramp and to prevent future cramps, stretch before going to bed.
For cramps in the legs, you may have to rub vigorously to soften the muscles. Cramps in the hands and fingers can occur any time you use your hand in an awkward position. Again, stretching your hand out flat against a surface usually takes care of the cramp. Be sure that before you walk, run, or do any strenuous exercise, you do some mild stretching exercises to loosen up those muscles.
Conventional medical treatment usually consists of quinine, muscle relaxers, and pain relievers, which may have undesirable side effects or be ineffective. Natural therapies offer a side-effect-free approach to relieving and preventing cramping pains and are frequently very effective.
Some women report that they experience light-headedness or dizziness when they have a hot flash and when hormone changes occur just before or after a period. This is probably due to vasodilation which diverts blood to the skin surface, or to changes in the central nervous system brought about by hormone imbalance.
However, dizziness has many causes. Low blood pressure or a poorly responsive sympathetic nervous system causes light-headedness when you rise quickly from a lying or sitting position. This causes a momentary decrease of blood flow to the brain and is called postural (or orthostatic) hypotension. Other causes of dizziness are stroke, medications and drugs, hormone imbalance, inner ear problems, and other medical conditions.
While almost everyone gets a headache at one time or another, some women are more prone to headaches, and if you are one of them, this may indicate that the symptom is your way of reacting to some form of stress. While some women report increases in the number and severity of headaches around the menopausal years, even more, say that the headaches that plagued them just before, during, or just after their periods for years nearly disappeared once their periods stopped for good.
Headaches that appear for the first time or intensify around menopause seem to be related to different hormone balances. The estrogen in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may cause headaches.
There are two main categories of common headaches: muscle contraction or tension headache; and vascular or migraine headache. Sinus headaches and headaches due to eyestrain are also very common. Very often headaches are a mixed variety.
Menopause Tension Ache
Muscle contraction or tension headaches are the most common type of headache, this usually feels like a dull ache with some tightness and tenderness at the temples, around the forehead, or where the skull meets the neck. It may be due to mental stress from, for example, overwork, or the mundane stress of everyday life such as being stuck in traffic.
A tension headache may also be the result of physical stress, such as too little sleep, a long tedious drive, or poor posture. Sometimes both mental and physical stresses are involved, as when sitting at a desk or straining at a computer for long periods of time in order to meet a deadline.
Under stress conditions, the body reacts by tightening the muscles in the scalp, jaw, neck, shoulders, and back; eventually, the muscles protest from the constant contraction. They stay sore and tight and squeeze the nerves and blood vessels that feed muscles and other soft tissues, causing radiating pain that you can feel anywhere in your face and neck.
Migraine is a French word derived from the Latin word hemicrania, which means “pain in half of the head.” This type of headache usually affects only one side of the head, bringing severe throbbing pain.
Before the headache begins, there may be visual disturbances such as visions of lights, bright or geometric shapes and lines, and “tunnel” vision, or sensations of a strange taste or odor, tingling, dizziness, slurred speech, ringing in the ears, and weakness in a part of the body. As the headache progresses, there may be nausea, vomiting, chills, and extreme fatigue. This type of headache is associated with the spasm of blood vessels.
However, what actually causes the pain is unknown. We do know there is an inflammatory response involving many biochemicals. A migraine may last for hours or days and may be triggered by hypersensitivity or allergic reactions to foods, alcohol, bright lights, some medications, or loud noises.
Some women also experience migraines due to hormonal fluctuations such as occur with the menstrual cycle or menopause; the culprit seems to be too much estrogen in relation to progesterone, and progesterone therapy sometimes helps these women.
About 65-75% of women experience hot flashes at some point during menopause. Hot flashes vary widely from woman to woman in their intensity, frequency, and duration. Some people make a distinction between a hot “flash” and a hot “flush.”
You may experience a hot flash as a passing feeling of warmth over your face or upper body, with perhaps a little perspiration forming on your upper lip which usually isn’t noticeable by other people. Or you may experience a hot flush, during which you literally become drenched in sweat, followed by chills, after excessive perspiration has lowered your total body temperature. But often no distinction is made between the two extremes, making it difficult to truly understand the scope and depth of this menopausal symptom.
While a hot flash may simply cause one woman’s face to turn rosy, in other women hot flashes are accompanied by distinct changes in heart rate and blood pressure. Some women become very uncomfortable and find hot flashes distressing and embarrassing, but others are able to ride the waves of sensation and even enjoy them. Most women come to recognize the particular warning signs that precede their own hot flashes.
Feelings of tension and anxiety are common, and there are also physical signs that a hot flash is imminent; these include nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations, and tingling in the fingers. Hot flashes typically last several minutes, although a few women may experience them for as long as an hour.
We think that hot flashes are brought on by changes in the hypothalamus, the gland in our brain that connects our nervous system to our endocrine system and regulates many body functions including body temperature and the release of sex hormones.
Sudden changes in hormone levels most likely trigger a neuro-chemical response by the hypothalamus which temporarily affects its ability to regulate body temperature. A normal, comfortable room temperature suddenly feels like a tropical heatwave to your body, and your body temperature actually rises. Your system takes “appropriate” steps to combat this situation: your blood vessels dilate and you perspire to cool your body, triggering a hot flash.
Women usually begin to experience hot flashes as monthly menstruation becomes irregular, and continue to experience them for about 2 years. However, in some women, hot flashes persist for up to 10 years. They are usually more pronounced at the beginning of menopause, and then taper off as your body adjusts to hormone changes.
It helps if you can acknowledge that hot flashes are often a normal part of going through menopause. Don’t try to deny them; in fact, many women find relief simply by discussing hot flashes and other symptoms with friends who are going through the same process.
Hot flashes are the single most identifiable symptom of the onset of menopause and they are also the most readily relieved by any number of appropriate approaches. Some women turn to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to control hot flashes. HRT does indeed provide relief from hot flashes but it is not right for every woman, and debate continues over its overall safety. Fortunately, there are many natural, holistic ways to cope with hot flashes.
We have met very few women who couldn’t correct their hot flashes naturally, without resorting to potentially hazardous hormone therapy.
When hot flashes occur at night, they are called night sweats. Many women experience hot flashes both day and night, but in some women, hot flashes never occur in the day at all. There is tremendous variation among women in the intensity of night sweats, from needing to get up and change one’s sleepwear and bedding, to just throwing off the bedcovers, to toweling off your neck and chest.
Although women who experience hot flashes during the day may be annoyed and inconvenienced that they occur in public, night sweats can wake you up several times a night, disturbing your sleep and leading to insomnia and all of its irritating accompanying symptoms.
Menopause Cause Digestive Problems
The digestive system, as most of us know only too well, is remarkably reactive to emotional and physical distress. As if that wasn’t bad enough, as we age, some of its functions slow down, and we find that we’re not able to eat as much as we used to without gastric discomfort, or we become constipated, as waste products move more slowly through the colon.
Sluggish bowels, it appears, are more than uncomfortable. They increase the risk of diverticulosis and possibly colon cancer, a leading cause of death among both men and women of middle age and beyond.