By Emma Singer
Published Apr 6, 2023
Charday Penn/Getty Images
So, you’re already well aware that menopause typically goes hand-in-hand with a host of pesky symptoms, including mood changes, hot flashes and dry-down-there private parts (hey, just ask Drew Barrymore). And maybe you’ve even heard that it can also cause trouble sleeping. But are you familiar with some of the lesser-known and unusual menopause symptoms, like burning mouth syndrome and tinnitus? Here’s everything you need to know.
Meet the Expert:
- Dr. Zeeshan Afzal, MD, is a medical officer at Welzo, a fully integrated healthcare platform that specializes in fertility and menopause testing. He has over 14 years of experience with a background in clinical science, including extensive research on the topic of menopause and its symptoms.
First, What Are Common Symptoms of Menopause?
In addition to the weird stuff (more on that later), there are common symptoms associated with menopause, too. It all starts with irregular periods, which will become less frequent over time and ultimately cease. Once changes to menstruation start, it’s an indication that estrogen levels are dropping (permanently) and you’re liable to experience a number of other physical symptoms as a result—including hot flashes, night sweats, chills, vaginal dryness (and discomfort during sex because of it), weight gain due to slowing metabolism, difficulty sleeping and mood changes (irritability and random crying have been known to occur). Needless to say, none of this sounds very fun—but it is par for the course and, fortunately, these symptoms do most often become milder or even disappear in time.
10 Unusual (and Lesser-Known) Symptoms of Menopause
And now, without further ado, here are the truly bizarre symptoms you likely haven’t heard of, but might want to brace yourself for.
1. Burning Mouth Syndrome
Cat got your tongue? Nope, it’s probably Burning Mouth Syndrome—a not very well understood, but decidedly unpleasant menopause and postmenopause symptom that Dr. Afzal says can cause “a painful, burning sensation in the tongue, lips, gums, or other parts of the mouth, which can be exacerbated by hot or spicy foods.” If you’re suffering from BMS, you won’t be able to see anything weird in your mouth—this syndrome is characterized by a sensation that occurs in the absence of lesions or other oral abnormalities—but you certainly will feel it.
If you’re experiencing this one, there are a number of things you can do to get some relief: Sucking on ice chips and avoiding acidic foods is a good place to start, but Mayo Clinic medical experts say that stubborn cases often respond to treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy, alpha-lipoic acid supplements, antidepressants or, ironically, capsaicin (among other things).
2. Electric Shock Sensations
Per Dr. Afzal, “some women experience sudden, sharp sensations that feel like electric shocks or jolts in various parts of the body, including the head, neck and limbs.” Pretty spooky, right? There’s very little research into Electric Shock Sensation (ESS) but women who experience it describe it as a “snap, crackle, pop” under the skin that often immediately precedes the infamous menopause symptom known as a hot flash. ESS is most likely triggered by hormonal fluctuations (duh) and, though quite bizarre, this harmless short-lived zap isn’t thought to be a condition that requires treatment, nor is it a cause for concern.
3. Itchy Skin
Per Dr. Afzal, decreased estrogen levels cause dry, itchy skin—and sometimes even the onset of eczema, rashes and hives—in many menopausal women. For more severe presentations, your physician might prescribe topical corticosteroids, but many women can find relief by taking warm, rather than piping hot, showers and generously applying over the counter moisturizers designed to protect the delicate barrier of aging skin.
4. Body Odor Changes
Menopause can cause changes in body odor—ranging from noticeably more potent to just plain different—due to changes in hormonal and metabolic activity, explains Dr. Afzal. Alas, there’s not much you can do about it besides embrace your new signature scent or stock up on strong deodorant.
5. Increased Anxiety and/or Depression
If you’re feeling extra blue these days, you can blame menopause for that, too. According to research published in Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, “vulnerability to depression is increased across the menopause transition and in the early years after the final menstrual period.” Indeed, Dr. Afzal confirms that “hormonal fluctuations during menopause can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression, which can be debilitating for some women.”
Anxiety and depression don’t have to be the new normal, though—antidepressants and other psych meds can be as effective for menopausal women as they are for the rest of the population, and behavioral interventions, including different modes of therapy, can go a long way to improving mental health symptoms, with or without medication.
6. Heart Palpitations
Don’t be alarmed if your heart skips a beat, either: The expert tells us that hormonal fluctuations (i.e., the force behind all menopausal woes) can cause irregular heartbeats or palpitations, which are felt as an unusually rapid heart rate, in some women. According to the British Heart Foundation, these palpitations and irregularities are typically harmless and most often occur during hot flashes.
Alas, reduced estrogen levels during menopause are also associated with an increased risk of heart disease, since said hormone plays an important role in protecting the arteries of a woman’s heart. As such, women who are experiencing this menopause-related symptom needn’t panic—after all, that won’t help your heart rate—but it’s wise to check in with your doctor and keep a closer eye on your heart health going forward, nevertheless.
7. Joint Pain
Hormone fluctuations, inflammation and other factors can contribute to joint pain in menopausal women, says Dr. Afzal. This unpleasant condition is called arthralgia, and although the causes are hard to pin down, a 2010 review published in Maturitas confirms that menopausal women are at considerably higher risk, and that decreased estrogen is likely to blame for exacerbating the symptoms of joint stiffness and pain.
Fortunately, the same study suggests that Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is proven to be effective at relieving arthralgia in the menopausal population, so it’s a treatment worth considering if you’re experiencing vasomotor symptoms that are particularly disruptive or distressing.
8. Hair Loss
In case you missed it, menopause can cause hair loss. Indeed, the combination of plummeting estrogen and progesterone levels that occurs during menopause “can cause hair to become thinner, drier, and more brittle, leading to hair loss or breakage,” says Dr. Afzal.
So, how to restore your lackluster locks to their former glory, you ask? For starters, there are a host of shampoos that boast hair-strengthening and volume boosting benefits (you can find our favorites here). There are also OTC medicated treatments that encourage hair growth and even a medical procedure involving platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections that you can seek if the former options don’t deliver the desired results.
Dr. Afzal tells us that “menopause can cause ringing or buzzing in the ears, which is known as tinnitus,” and yes, it can be a very annoying distraction to the unlucky women who experience this symptom.
On the bright side, a 2018 nationwide study published in Oncotarget acknowledged the increased risk of tinnitus among menopausal women and identified Hormone Replacement Therapy (once again) as a treatment that may provide potential benefits in the management and prevention of the condition—so if this menopause-related hearing change has been plaguing you, it might be worth exploring the option with your doctor.
10. Increased Urinary Tract Infections
Changes in the urinary tract during menopause can make women more susceptible to UTIs, the expert tells us, which can cause painful urination, frequent urination and other unpleasant symptoms. If you’re experiencing discomfort when urinating or a constant urge to go (and little relief for your effort), you should definitely inform your doctor, as antibiotics are the treatment of choice for UTIs.
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