Menopause and anxiety often go hand in hand. We take a look at some symptoms of menopause that can cause anxiety and what you can do to fix them.
Menopause often causes new and sometimes worrisome physical symptoms that are typically related to fluctuations in circulating hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
While many women tolerate menopausal symptoms without complications, other people may experience severe anxiety and panic disorder.
Menopause and anxiety
Here are some menopausal-related symptoms that may exacerbate anxiety and what you can do about them.
Many menopausal women complain of heart palpitations, which can be frightening. However, they are usually benign and related to hormonal fluctuations.
Women who are prone to anxiety may perceive heart palpitations as the beginning of heart disease, worsening their health anxieties and hypochondriasis. Palpitations can be especially alarming when they begin out of nowhere.
They sometimes occur after eating, but often occur in conjunction with hot flashes. They are nothing to be concerned about; however, they can indicate problems with the cardiovascular system. Heart disease rises with age and is more pronounced in the post-menopausal years.
Women who have had their ovaries removed during hysterectomy may be at a higher risk for heart disease than women who still have their ovaries. The ovaries are the body’s primary source of estrogen, and estrogen may be cardioprotective.
To reduce the intensity and frequency of palpitations, consider taking magnesium citrate supplements. Known as “nature’s beta blocker,” magnesium helps regulate the heart rate, and it also helps keep blood pressure within reasonable limits.
Eating smaller, more frequent meals can also help stave off palpitations that occur after meals. Avoiding caffeine, smoking, managing stress and getting regular exercise also helps relieve palpitations. Certain medications can contribute to palpitations as well.
These include decongestants, antidepressants, certain pain medications and some antihistamines. Although common during menopause, you should seek emergency medical treatment if palpitations are accompanied by shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, swollen ankles or numbness.
When natural treatments for palpitations fail to bring relief, medications such as propranolol can help slow the heart rate to eliminate palpitations. Propranolol does have side effects, however. They include fatigue, dizziness, exercise intolerance, insomnia, slow pulse, nasal congestion, constipation and cold extremities.
Most of these side effects are temporary, however, and tend to dissipate after a few weeks. Also, most side effects from propranolol are dose dependent, so if you do experience side effects, your doctor can decrease your dosage, which will help eliminate them.
Making sure that you get enough potassium in your diet is also good for your heart, and may help regulate your heart’s rate and rhythm. Eating foods rich in potassium such as bananas and oranges help keep palpitations at bay, and it also helps maintain healthy blood pressure.
Tingling and electric shock sensations
One of the more unusual and anxiety-provoking symptoms linked to menopause is a tingling or electric shock sensation in the extremities. These feelings can easily be mistaken for a scary medical condition, but they are ubiquitous during the peri-menopausal and menopausal years.
Although the hands and feet are most often affected, numbness and tingling can occur anywhere in the body, including the face, head, mouth, vaginal area, the breasts and even the eyes.
These symptoms are usually the result of lowered levels of circulating estrogen, and women often report that these tingling sensations feel like prickly, creeping feelings.
This sensation is known as formication, and although commonly associated with menopause, it also can result from vitamin deficiencies, diabetes, potassium or calcium deficiencies, anxiety and problems with circulations.
To rule any medical conditions, see your doctor if you experience numbness or tingling in your extremities or any other parts of your body. Stabilizing your hormones with hormone replacement therapy often relieves tingling, however again, it is not appropriate for some women.
A healthy diet and daily exercise can improve formication. When your body is healthy, you are less likely to experience the effects of hormonal fluctuations.
Because magnesium helps calm nerve fibers and muscles, taking a magnesium citrate supplement may help with tingling, especially if your symptoms are stress-related.
Changes in hair growth
Of course, women love a luxurious head of healthy hair, but nobody wants an increase in facial hair. Unfortunately, this sometimes happens as a result of menopause.
Hair thinning during menopause is not something to worry about as it relates to severe illness, as hormonal changes are typically responsible. Your changing hormone levels can also cause you to experience thinning hair on your scalp, legs, and underarms, which can lead to severe anxiety and self-consciousness.
Certain medications commonly taking during the menopausal years can also contribute to hair loss, and they include but are not limited to, beta blockers and specific hormonal preparations.
Using a mild shampoo, and avoiding hairstyles that cause tension on the hair can help keep your hair from falling out. If hair loss becomes overly noticeable, products such as Rogaine can help spur hair growth. Talk to your doctor before using this product because it may interact negatively with certain medications, or cause side effects.
Hypothyroidism, which is also common during menopause, can also cause hair loss. However, other symptoms often appear first. These include weight gain or the inability to lose weight, hoarseness, dry skin, puffy eyelids, constipation, feeling cold, fatigue, elevated blood lipid levels, heavy menstrual periods, and a slow pulse. Thyroid replacement therapy often brings rapid relief of symptoms.
Muscle and joint pain
Muscle and joint pain is another frequent complaint of menopausal women. As these symptoms appear, women who are prone to health anxiety may perceive them as the beginning of a severe illness. As with other menopausal symptoms, random pains are related to hormones and decreased levels of circulating calcium.
Pains in the neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees, ankles and feet are typical, as are headaches, jaw pain, and rib pain. Eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D are often helpful in relieving muscle and joint discomfort, as is engaging in regular exercise.
Taking Epsom salt baths is very soothing, and often brings substantial relief from those affected by menopause-related musculoskeletal manifestations. Epsom salts are rich in magnesium, which helps improve nerve and muscle function while relaxing tense muscles.
The etiology of menopausal-related muscle and joint pain remains unclear. However, reduced levels of estrogen are believed to play a significant role in the development of these symptoms.
Estrogen affects muscles and joints by keeping inflammation to a minimum. As levels of estrogen decline in the years leading up to menopause, the joints get lower amounts of estrogen, resulting in pain and inflammation. For individual women, the joint pain and stiffness are worse in the morning, while swelling worsens as the day wears on.
Menopausal weight gain can also exacerbate aches and pains, not only because excess weight exerts pressure on the joints, but because being overweight may trigger an inflammatory response as well. Although exercise is often recommended to ease discomfort, some women are unable to tolerate its effects.
Some women who are prone to menopausal muscle aches and joint pain might experience intense, shooting pains down the arms or legs, especially after an exercise session.
If this occurs, it is crucial to speak to your healthcare provider to rule out other causes of your pain. Exercise is essential during menopause, to ensure that activity becomes less painful and more tolerable. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are particularly useful in mitigating joint pain.
These medications include ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and aspirin. If you are unable to tolerate side effects such as stomach upset, or if you are taking prescription anticoagulant medications, taking NSAIDs may not be an appropriate treatment option for you.
Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, can also help relieve pain, however, unlike NSAIDs, acetaminophen does little to reduce inflammation. Gentle massage is also highly effective in relieving muscle soreness and joint pain. It not only promotes muscle relaxation, but it also encourages optimal circulation, which helps in the healing process.
To further relieve pain and stiffness related to menopause, visit your health care provider first, to determine the exact cause of your pain. Staying active and fit helps keep your joints healthy and flexible, so consider incorporating yoga or tai chi into your routine exercise regimen.
Of course, decreasing pressure on your weight-bearing joints such as your hips and knees by keeping your weight within reasonable limits also helps. Also, try to avoid repetitive strain on your joints.
Managing your stress levels is also very important in the treatment of muscle and joint pain. When you are under stress, your body releases a hormone known as cortisol, which can contribute to inflammation. Prolonged stress may cause inflammation to spread rapidly, worsening your pain.
Lifestyle modifications such as regular exercise may help regulate your levels of cortisol to reduce inflammation. Also, limiting your intake of sugar and carbohydrates can also keep you more comfortable.
Chronic inflammation and subsequent pain can be signs of a diet high in sugar, white bread, flour, and rice. A high-carbohydrate diet can also promote insulin irregularities, which can disrupt cellular metabolism and worsen inflammation.
Eating certain fruits such as cherries, blackberries, and blueberries can have a dramatic effect on your level of pain. These fruits are rich sources of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories which are beneficial in the management of inflammation and pain.
Losing too much blood from bleeding gums can lead to anemia. If you become anemic from gingival blood loss, you may experience a fast heart rate, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness.
These symptoms can mimic anxiety and even exacerbate existing anxiety symptoms. Gum problems such as gingivitis are also common menopause symptoms. Fluctuations in hormones are thought to be responsible for gum disease during menopause.
Swollen, red, and bleeding gums are not uncommon, so brushing and flossing at least twice a day is vital to maintaining oral health.
If you do not manage gingivitis efficiently, it can progress into periodontitis, a condition which may destroy the bones that hold your teeth in place, and result in tooth loss.
Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber and lean proteins help maintain oral health, as does drinking plenty of water to rinse away bacteria, avoiding junk food and not smoking. If you have gingivitis, your gums may bleed more when you floss.
They may even bleed spontaneously, however, do not let this deter you from flossing every time you brush. Flossing, despite the bleeding, will strengthen your gums, and help remove bacteria-causing plaque from your teeth and gum line. Taking a vitamin C supplement may also promote oral health. Before you start on supplements, however, talk to your dental professional.
If you experience a worsening of your anxiety as a result of any of the above menopausal symptoms, work with your healthcare provider to develop an effective treatment plan. Doing so will not only help manage symptoms of menopause but will also help ease anxiety and panic attacks.