Years ago, I worked with a wonderful woman who had a coffee cup that read, “I’m not forgetful, I’m in mentalpause.” And she LEFT the mug all over the place – near the coffee pot, in the ladies’ room, in my office – it was really rather funny. But it’s true! Women in the stages of menopause (perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause) may experience mental challenges.
A woman’s working memory, which includes one’s ability to assimilate and manipulate new information, often can be lessened during menopause. Also, it is believed that estrogen causes disturbances in a woman’s memory, mood, and language. Brain functioning often suffers when estrogen levels fluctuate. This became such an interesting topic that a study was conducted that linked the severity and frequency of a woman’s hot flashes with a woman’s lapses in verbal memory.
This stage can include hot flashes, irregular periods, sleep disturbances, night sweats, mood swings, and vaginal dryness. I was very lucky and had only six or seven hot flashes throughout the whole process; a good friend of mine went through years of hot flashes and she would turn beet red several times a day, which was really tough on her and on those of us working with her.
A website focuses on the topic of the connections of menopause and memory. The statistics it reports are that 60% of women suffer from “brain fog” while in menopause or perimenopause. Lapses in memory and concentration during the early and middle stages of menopause are very common. The doctor explains that “menopause memory and concentration loss can be alarming.” Hormone levels can be reduced during menopause and estrogen levels can go up and down frequently during perimenopause. A direct link has not been verified, but many believe there is a correlation.
Menopause, technically, describes one phase in a woman’s life. Stage 1 is Perimenopause, and this is when estrogen production begins to fluctuate. This stage may last anywhere from one to seven years and although some symptoms may begin earlier, signs of perimenopause generally start when estrogen production changes and disrupts hormone levels.
Stage 2 is Menopause and is considered concluded after the woman had 12 consecutive months without a period. During this time which includes hormonal change and lack of a menstrual cycle, eggs will no longer be produced. Since the estrogen levels remain low, the effects of this stage include aches and pains, weight gain, and mood swings.
Because less estrogen will be produced, one’s brain may relay the message that the body is hot, and therefore it attempts to cool off by sweating and dilating blood vessels. Other unpleasant body reactions include an increase of inflammation which results in joint and muscle aches, weight gain especially around the abdomen, hips, and thighs, and an emotional rollercoaster that may take over with anxiety, sadness, irritability, and fatigue.
Stage 3 is Post-Menopause, and this is when the estrogen production levels out.
Some people will seek medical care which can include triglyceride screenings, a thyroid test which is generally based on the patient’s history, along with pelvic and breast exams. It’s important to keep up with regular doctor’s appointments and to make an additional appointment for any concerns. A woman should always ask for medical advice if there is bleeding from the vagina after menopause.
It can be rough on a woman, her coworkers, and her family as she passes through these stages. Remember, however, that a foggy brain and loss of memory will often be present – in short, women aren’t going crazy, but their hormones are! Doctors may prescribe medication to help women with their symptoms, but that’s for another article.
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