Please! Can you help me? I am ridiculously frustrated by this monthly, recurring skin rash that keeps showing up on my face and my neck. It’s itchy and sore and worst of all, it’s really ugly! It comes a week or two before my menstrual cycle begins and lasts about 3 or 4 days.
I’ve been to my doctor and he’s blaming it on my skin care products or something I’m eating. He’s dismissed the idea that it’s got something to do with my hormones. But come on man! It’s cyclical and starting to show up like clockwork. How can it not be connected to my hormones?
And this unsightly rash is just one of the strange and unusual menopause symptoms I’ve been experiencing the last few years. At first, perimenopause kind of snuck up on me. I’d only ever heard about menopause and talk about hot flashes, night sweats and that my period would stop.
So for a couple years I wasn’t feeling like myself. And I felt really confused and overwhelmed by all these changes I was noticing in my body and my mood. I had absolutely no idea that so much of what I was experiencing were perimenopause symptoms. Not until a friend of mine told me she was in perimenopause and started explaining what that meant.
Weird, not-so-wonderful and downright unusual symptoms
Some of what I consider to be my perimenopause symptoms show up on the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) approved list. And many of them don’t. They are all so weird and not-so-wonderful and I didn’t realize they could possibly be connected to menopause.
So today, my red, raw, itchy, ugly neck rash has put me on a tear. I’m uncomfortable and ready to rant. This blog doesn’t offer a whole lot of solutions (stay tuned for that). But hopefully I can shed a little light on some surprising symptoms of menopause that you may be experiencing but that no one bothered to tell you were part of the journey.
1. Changes in Skin
Of course we’ll start here. Most doctors and dermatologists will agree that menopause will cause changes to your skin. They talk about loss of collagen, dry skin, itchy skin and acne. The American Academy of Dermatology Association+ paints a bleak picture. I’m paraphrasing here, but here’s the basics
- “We lose about 30% of our collagen during the first five years of menopause.” Yikes!
- “Then it slows down and we only lose about 2% more every single year for the next 20 years.” Holy crap!
- “As our collagen diminishes, our skin loses it firmness and begins to sag. Jowls appear. Permanent lines run from the tip of the nose to the corners of the mouth. Wrinkles that used to appear only with a smile or frown become visible all the time.” Jowls! WTF!?!
- “Later, the tip of the nose dips. You may see pouches under your eyes.” Stop already!
OMG! Kill me now!
And now here comes the double whammy. The answer that I’ve been looking for… changes in estrogen levels can leave our skin more vulnerable to irritation and rashes. And if you already have a pesky skin condition like eczema or rosacea (like me), well, buckle up because things will likely only get worse.
So there you have it. I’m not imagining things, doctor. My monthly rashes very likely could be one of the many symptoms of menopause that I’m experiencing.
2. Giggles and Dribbles
I’ve always struggled with poor bladder control. A really good joke or a sneezing fit has always caused a little dribble. But what I have going on right now is BEYOND an overactive bladder!
I seriously can’t leave the house, even for a quick 20 minute walk around the block without first stopping for a pee. And then peeing again immediately after I get home. I go through my days panicked if I’m going to be away from a bathroom for more than 30 minutes. I’ve got all the good public washrooms in my area mapped out on my GPS. After a long drive to the city, I’ve been known to pee in a parking garage or two. I think I’ve managed to avoid the cameras, but I really don’t care.
Now granted, I do drink a ton of water every day (like 3-5 litres), but even so, my bladder control is starting to severely impact my life. I just turned 50, and I actually found myself wandering down the incontinence aisle at the pharmacy last week. Unfortunately, I had to leave the store to find a bathroom before I had time to make the purchase.
Apparently, urinary incontinence (leakage), frequency, urgency and urinary tract infections are all common symptoms of menopause. You won’t be surprised to hear it has to do with our estrogen decrease during this time. Estrogen helps keep the lining of the bladder and urethra healthy so when it drops these tissues deteriorate and can cause incontinence.
I know that what I really need to do is find a pelvic floor therapist, move into their office for a few months and build up my pelvic muscles. Everything I’ve read tells me this is the answer. But come on. Who has the time?
3. Change in Body Odor
So I’m standing in line at the grocery store a couple months ago and I’m overwhelmed by this horrible, rank, ripe smell coming from someone near by. It was the so unpleasant and so overpowering, I almost left the line. As I waited, I quietly judged the woman in front of me for her poor personal hygiene. She moved away, but the smell lingered. Must be the cashier. Disgusting.
As I walked away with my bags in hand, the weirdest thing happened… the cashier’s BO followed me. It was still with me when I got in my car. And that’s when it hit me. One of the most horrible realization of my life. That dank, ripe, offensive smell was coming from me!
I do not smell like this. This is not my BO.
But here’s the cruel joke. Apparently now that I’m in perimenopause, I actually smell worse than my son’s hockey bag after a double-overtime game in August. Changes in body odor is just another cruel twist on the long list of menopausal symptoms.
According to Harvard Health Publishing~:
- The menopausal drop in estrogen creates a slight increase in testosterone. This can attract more bacteria to our sweat and make us smell a little funkier than before.
- Plus profuse perspiration from hot flashes and night sweats can nourish underarm bacteria, leading to more body odor.
- But wait, there’s more! Our sense of smell can also change, leaving us with a heightened ability to smell ourselves, even if we don’t actually stink.
So, in summary, perimenopause is making us sweatier, smellier, and more self-conscious than ever before. Geez! Menopausal women just can’t catch a break.
4. Dry Eyes
I started wearing contacts about 5 years ago. I’m not sure if it’s hormone changes or just old age, but my 20/20 vision has been on the steady decline since I turned 40. I know that dry eyes are common symptoms among contact wearers, but what I have going on is ridiculous!
Some of the recognized symptoms of dry eyes, according the the Mayo Clinic* include:
- A stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in your eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Eye redness
- A sensation of having something in your eyes
- Watery eyes, which is the body’s response to the irritation of dry eyes
- Blurred vision or eye fatigue
And I have got them all! There are days when I literally want to pull my eyeballs out.
So here’s why it happens. The changes to our hormone levels affects two glands in our eyelids that make oil and fluid. And these changes cause our eyelids get inflamed, reducing our tears which causes dry eyes. Some researchers also believe that estrogen levels can cause dry eyes too. So your eyes may be more dry certain times of your month or while taking birth control pills.
The only answer I’ve come up with so far is to stock up on eye drops and apply them often. But if you’re constantly dealing with dry eyes or even blurred vision, you should definitely visit an optometrist to make sure everything is ok.
5. Pains in my ass
I think this is my least favourite of my menopausal symptoms. The not-so-delightful world of joint and muscle pain. Back pain, neck pain, jaw pain, shoulder pain. Even my calves ache these days.
Mornings are truly a treat. I can practically hear my joints protesting as I try to get out of bed. But fear not, as the day progresses and I get moving, my joints begrudgingly loosen up, offering a glimmer of relief.
I’m only 50 years old! It’s not like I’m actually that old. So why am I so sore?
According to The National Institute of Health^:
- Musculoskeletal pain (MSP) is one of the most severe complaints in women undergoing menopause.
- Because there are estrogen receptors all over the body, including the joints, declining hormone levels can add to pain caused by inflammation, general wear and tear, and just plain aging.
Some quick research I’ve done has lead me to believe that these aches and pains are the result of a more concerning, underlying problem – systemic inflammation in my body. So I’m diving in to that one and am going to take a crack at some lifestyle and dietary changes to see if I can start feeling better. Stay tuned. I’ll let you know how it goes.
6. Clumsy AF
Now I was never a ballerina. Nor am I often complimented for my natural grace. But this new stage of clumsiness that I’m experiencing is out of control. Honestly, there are some days that I can’t stop dropping my phone, bumping into the couch as I walk by, and am literally tripping over my own feet.
When it first started happening, I thought that there was something seriously medically wrong with me. I went down all the Dr Google rabbit holes and kind of started to panic.
Then I talked to friends and they assured me my lack of coordination was directly related to my lack of sleep. And there might be some truth to this. But I found that even during the weeks that I was getting good sleeps, I was still awkward and clumsy.
Then I found a few articles indicating that clumsiness is one of the less frequently-reported (and even less scientifically-respected) symptoms of menopause. This one’s definitely not on the NAMS list, but I’m still blaming my awkward, graceless, uncoordinated episodes on my perimenopause.
According to Healthcare UK`, “During the menopause, changes in the perception of depth of vision can occur, which can affect your awareness of surroundings. Your concentration can sometimes dip during this time, and your eyes can become drier. This can lead to clumsiness or being more accident prone.”
I feel like they’re on to something. And because there hasn’t been nearly enough studies done on women’s health, symptoms of menopause and menopausal transition, I’m keeping this one on my list of symptoms of menopause.
7. What the Pluck?
This symptom of mine, just plain sucks! I have always secretly coveted Texas Beauty Queen hair. The bigger, the better. Farah Fawcett locks … bring ’em on.
So you can image my horror and hysteria when I started noticing changes to my luscious locks. Not only did I start to notice more hair in the drain and on my brush than ever before. I also started to see evidence of tiny broken hairs all over my desk every day. It seems that since I’ve hit perimenopause, the hair on my head has become thinner, drier, frizzier and more brittle than ever before.
According to Debra Lin, hD, hair science expert at Better, Not Younger,”The hormones involved—mainly estrogen and progesterone—affect your hair’s growth cycles, your scalp and follicle health, and the natural oils that keep hair smooth and lustrous. Because of that, you may experience thinning, lack of density, texture changes, and dryness as estrogen wanes.”-
I’ve also noticed that my eyebrows that were once thick, wild and unruly have thinned out on the outer edges. So much so, that I now have to pencil them in.
Now apparently these hair issues can also be symptoms of thyroid issues, so I checked it out. We should always double check that our strange and unusual perimenopause symptoms aren’t some other underlying health concern. We can never be too careful.
I guess I should count myself lucky though. According to The Cleveland Clinic it could be worse. For some women, “as hormones shift, you may notice hair on the upper lip or chin.” The hormone magic here is a result of estrogen diminishing and testosterone staying put. High T causes coarser, darker, thicker hair that often crops up on our chins and upper lips. Thank goodness for laser hair removal!
Other unusual perimenopause symptoms
These are my weirdest perimenopause symptoms. And just some of the cruel and unusual symptoms that perimenopausal and postmenopausal women might experience. There are so many more that you might be experiencing, but haven’t thought to blame on perimenopause, like:
- Heart palpitations (this is a biggie and you should always get these checked out)
- Bloating and constipation
- Oral health issues: dry mouth and bad breath, burning mouth or gum disease
- Memory issues
- Feeling blue, or low moods, even depression
- Sleep issues
- Vaginal dryness and itching
And there are so many more menopause symptoms. Trust me. It’s definitely not all hot flashes, night sweats and weight gain. Here’s our full list of the 30+ Symptoms of Perimenopause. Take a look. Maybe you’ll realize that some of the strange things you’ve been experiencing lately could be the result of perimenopause.
Do something about it
If you are experiencing symptoms that you just can’t explain, seek medical advice. And hopefully the menopause FAQs I shared will help you to feel comfortable asking your healthcare providers for support. To give you the confidence to be fierce in your stance and not allow them to dismiss you just because they don’t think you’re old enough or you haven’t had a hot flash yet.
It’s more important than ever to take women’s health seriously. And we’re here for you every step of the way.
+ The American Academy of Dermatology Association https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-secrets/anti-aging/skin-care-during-menopause#:~:text=Jowls%2C%20slack%20skin%2C%20and%20wrinkles&text=Studies%20show%20that%20women’s%20skin,firmness%20and%20begins%20to%20sag.
* The Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-eyes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371863
~ Harvard Health Publishing https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/why-has-my-natural-scent-changed-during-perimenopause
^ The National Institute of Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7710408/
` Healthcare UK https://www.hcahealthcare.co.uk/blogs/18-signs-of-the-menopause-you-might-have-missed
– Better, Not Younger https://www.oprahdaily.com/beauty/hair/a40517158/menopause-hair-loss-thinning-treatment/
** The Cleveland Clinic https://health.clevelandclinic.org/heres-how-menopause-affects-your-skin-and-hair/