Diminishing ovarian function, one of the early stages of menopause, can lead to some very real physical symptoms that can last for years, as hormone levels fall and fluctuate. The severity of these symptoms often depends on how gradual or sudden the changes are. Check out the list below to learn more. From Before Your Time: The Early Menopause Survival Guide by Evelina Weidman Sterling, Ph.D., and Angie Best-Boss
Gaining weight around your waist or abdomen is often referred to as “male-pattern” weight gain. This “apple” shape is more common among men. “Female-pattern” weight gain often results in a more “pear” shape, with extra weight settling around the hips, thighs, and buttocks. After ovarian function begins to diminish, women’s metabolisms change and fat tends to be redistributed even when they keep up their diet and exercise routines. Maintain a healthy weight in order to help prevent cardiovascular disease or other long-term health concerns. Talk with your health care provider or nutritionist about any concerns you have about your weight and how to best go about losing weight.
Dry or Itchy Skin
Dryness seems to be a common theme during hormonal changes. Also, your skin may feel supersensitive or tingle.
While some wrinkling is due to aging, additional hormonal changes cause skin to lose some of its elasticity and become thinner. Wrinkles may start to appear in the delicate tissues around the eyes, cheeks, and lips. These can result in “crow’s feet” or smile lines in areas that were once smooth and supple.
Hair Loss or Thinning
Because hair follicles need estrogen, hair loss or thinning among women is a result of lower levels of estrogen. Hair coming out as you brush it or unusually dry or brittle hair can be an initial sign of changing hormones.
Increased Facial Hair
Given the low levels of female hormones in your body, your male hormones have a great influence on increased facial hair growth. This can include increased hair (or darker, coarser hair) on the chin, upper lip, chest (including around your nipples), or abdomen.
Changes in Body Odor
Increased body odor associated with hormone changes doesn’t have anything to do with perspiration. Normal bacteria are having a heyday because your metabolism is changing and your body is ridding itself of excess waste due to hormonal imbalances. Body odor can present as foot odor, sweaty or smelly hands, bad breath, or armpit odor.
Changes in Nails
As hormones fluctuate, fingernails and toenails can become softer and crack or break more easily.
Because changes in hormones typically contribute to the drying out of the skin, why not the eyes, too? These types of hormonal changes make women more likely to experience dry eyes and accompanying symptoms such as eye irritation and blurred vision.
Changing hormone levels (whatever the cause) can create an emotional roller coaster. Often, these symptoms are more prominent than the more physical symptoms. With ovarian insufficiency, unlike in more traditional menopause, this is not a time to celebrate or to look forward to that “postmenopausal zest”—what Margaret Mead originally described as a wave of relief, knowing that you have survived the perimenopausal chaos. The emotional toll that diminishing ovarian function takes, in addition to the typical emotional changes initiated by changing hormone levels, can lead to an even more harrowing emotional experience.
Sometimes changing hormone levels cause women to feel “not quite right.” This may include an overall “fogginess” or feelings of general malaise. Unfortunately, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact feelings other than that something odd is going on.
Irritability and Aggressiveness
If you are feeling irritable or unusually aggressive, there is a good chance it is connected to your changing hormones. In fact, this is one of the most common emotional changes that women experience.
Mood swings are another major emotional change sparked by changing hormone levels. Some women liken these changes to PMS—only constant. Reacting to changing levels of estrogen, women experience highs, lows, and everything in between. Though feelings of sadness or “blues” are typical as ovarian function diminishes, severe or clinical depression is not a symptom and should be further evaluated if experienced.
Nervousness and Anxiety
With anxiety, there is a sense of foreboding or that something is terribly wrong. Anxiety-related symptoms include trembling, sweating, and being easily startled.
Memory problems may also be related to ovarian insufficiency. Even though there are no known connections between memory and changing hormones, many women experience some sort of short-term memory loss. Some believe that this is related to the stress associated with going though ovarian insufficiency, especially when it occurs at a young age.
Confusion or Lack of Concentration
Women experiencing hormone changes may also have difficulty concentrating. It is important to keep your mind engaged and stimulated in order to lessen the effects of this symptom.
Fatigue and Lack of Energy
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hormone fluctuations. It is described as an ongoing and persistent feeling of weakness, tiredness, and lowered energy level. While many women also experience difficulty sleeping, fatigue is more lack of energy than drowsiness. While fatigue and lack of energy are not emotional symptoms per se, these symptoms can easily exacerbate many other emotional symptoms you may be feeling.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Evelina Weidman Sterling, Ph.D., is a nationally recognized public health researcher and educator specializing in fertility and women’s health issues. Angie Best-Boss has a master’s degree in counseling and is a freelance writer focusing on women’s health. Together they are the authors of Before Your Time: The Early Menopause Survival Guide (Copyright © 2010 Evelina Weidman Sterling and Angie Best-Boss) and Budgeting for Infertility: How to Bring Home a Baby Without Breaking the Bank.
MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHORS
- Read Chapter 1 of Before Your Time: The Early Menopause Survival Guide
- Browse more books by the authors