How to Survive Menopause When Dealing With an Illness
This is aimed at patients who are suffering from an illness—particularly an autoimmune disease—on top of having menopause.
Starting Menopause With a Thyroid Disease
Hot flashes, fatigue, night sweats, a possible weakness of the bladder, and terrible, terrible premenstrual tension. Yes, you still get these symptoms even when your periods may have stopped. These are just some of the symptoms of the menopause. It hits some people like a sledgehammer, while for others, it slowly creeps up on them. But most of us tend to recognize menopause when it hits—unless, of course, you are suffering from another illness at the time.
My personal experience with menopause overlapped with a diagnosis of a thyroid disease.
I was diagnosed with Graves' disease smack bang in the middle of my menopause. Trust me when I tell you that it was not fun! One of the worse things about menopause is not getting enough sleep. You toss and turn all night long and wake up feeling like hell in a pool of sweat!
Always get a blood test done if you suffer from autoimmune illness when your menopause starts. This is to make sure you're not taking too many or not enough meds. Once menopause starts, it won't be easy to tell the difference.
Symptoms of Menopause Can Overlap With Symptoms of Some Illnesses
Hot, Hot, Hot!
The trouble with recognizing when you're in menopause is that the symptoms can be very similar to certain illnesses. For example, if you suffer from a thyroid disease, it's possible that you will sweat heavily throughout the day and night. Your bones will ache, and your heart will race faster than normal.
Here are more symptoms of menopause and thyroid illness that tend to overlap:
- Night sweats
- Aching arms and legs
- Mood swings
- Fast heartbeat
- Thumping heart
- Rushing (blood flow around the body that feels as though its speeding up)
Finding the Perfect Underwear
Check out online and brick-and-mortar clothes shops menopause-specific underwear specially made for handling those hot flashes and night sweats.
Thyroid Medication Seemed to Worsen My Menopause Symptoms
Medication for your illness can sometimes make your menopause worse—at least in my experience.
When I started taking carbimazole, I began suffering badly from symptoms of fibromyalgia. My whole body felt like it had been run over. Pain in my arms and legs was excruciating, and it made my menopause much more painful. I didn't have just hot sweats but dripping, boiling blood sweats. Trust me. It wasn't pleasant.
It's hard to say what's causing all the increased distress. It could be a vicious cycle: the thyroid disease symptoms are worsening the menopause symptoms, which in turn, are worsening the thyroid disease symptoms.
Well, in any case, don't panic; there are ways to find out and put them both in their rightful place. At this point, I have to say that not all illnesses are similar to thyroid disease. But if you have an autoimmune disease like I do, it might make you feel and look a mess!
How I Coped With the Stress and Chaos
With all the sweats, chills, sleeplessness, lack of sex drive, and mood changes, menopause can be very distressing. Many people do sail through it without a problem, but if you suffer from another disease, the symptoms can feel worse. I remember trying to drag myself to work through all the pain, sweat, and tears.
So what can we do to alleviate the problem?
Learning the differences between the symptoms of your illness and the symptoms of menopause is a start. Now that may sound obvious, but it was tremendously helpful for me.
Research your disease on reputable health sites. Buy a book that explains your illness. You may have had the illness for many years and think this is a waste of time. Trust me when I tell you it's not. I went out and bought a fantastic book about Graves' disease and other thyroid illnesses. I was surprised to find that I had missed so many symptoms.
Be Gentle With Your Hair
One of the horrible things about thyroid illness and menopause is hair loss. Try and keep away from hair dryers, coloring, etc. Just be gentle with your hair, and it should be fine. Vitamins can be a great help if you have problems with your hair.
Tips to Survive Menopause When You Have an Illness
Be Your Own Advocate
- Educate yourself. Read two books: one about menopause and one about your illness.
- Monitor your meds. Do any medications you take affect your menopause symptoms? If so, let your GP (doctor) know, and see if you need to raise or lower the doses—or even change what time of day you take them. It's important to discuss this with your GP first before altering your treatment regimen.
- Ask your doctor about black cohosh, an herb commonly used in alternative medicine to treat symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, to see if it's right for you. Only take it with your GP's advice. Mixing prescriptions, supplements, and herbs without proper consultation could worsen your situation—or decrease the effectiveness of the medications you're currently taking. Check and check again!
- Every night, write down everything you have to do the next day. Dealing with all these symptoms can take up a lot of your mental energy, and you may be more prone to memory problems. If you write down things down, you won't forget important things like taking your meds or going to see your doctor.
Try Different Strategies to Keep Cool
- Sleep on cotton sheets with only a couple of blankets, if needed. A duvet is pretty much a no-no when you are sweating.
- Try not to have too many hot showers. If you can bear it, make the water a few degrees cooler. This will balance your body much better than too much heat. Hot water will work for a few minutes, but when it cools, you will sweat again.
- Relax. Read, watch TV, or just sleep. If those hot flashes are being a pain, put your feet in a bowl of cool water. It balances the rest of your body.
Stay Active and Get Fresh Air
- Try to get a lot of exercise. Sounds strange? Even a 10-minute workout can balance your body (and mind) better than any medication! Of course, if you are chair-bound, or your body hurts too much because of your illness, then gentle movements like arm swings, ankle rolls, and feet lifts can still be just as useful.
- If you are capable, try yoga. You don't have to do the hard stuff. Just gentle stretches or exercise of any sort can help.
- Try and get as much fresh air as possible. A dry, stale environment will make you either sweat too much or get dehydrated.
Stay Hydrated and Eat Small Portions
- Drink lots of fluids. Water is always best, but cranberry juice and lemon barley are great for keeping your bladder healthy.
- Do not drink alcohol or caffeine. Both will make your symptoms worse.
- Keep an eye out for water infections. As your hormones start to drop, you can suffer from dehydration, which in turn, can cause trouble with your bladder.
- Eat a smaller portions—especially in the evening at dinner. This may help your body maintain energy throughout the day.
Take Time for Yourself to Care for Your Mental Health
- Don't be surprised if you find that you cry a lot. Don't worry about it; cry as much as you like. Crying releases chemicals in your body that calm you and help you feel better.
- If you start to suffer from anxiety or mood swings, take a rest. It doesn't matter if you are still working, tell your employer that you have to have a few minutes to calm your mind and body.
- Talk to your family or friends about how you are feeling. If you feel that it is much too personal, join an online support group or local help group to discuss how you are feeling mentally and physically. Speaking with other patients can sometimes be more useful than seeing your GP since your GP is usually in a hurry and doesn't always understand what you're going through.
- Surround yourself with color. Sounds strange? There are a lot of theories about the effects of color on the mind, body, and behavior.
You can't remember everything. You've got enough on your plate. One thing I noticed about going through menopause with a thyroid illness is that my brain turned to sludge. That's why you should take notes—lots of notes, if possible. If you find that things keep slipping your mind, writing things down is the best way to keep on the right track.
Besides taking care of yourself, ask your partner or a family member to watch out for you. You may sometimes act vaguely, you may forget to take your tablets, and you may forget appointments. Let them know that if they see you staring into space for more than a few minutes, they should make an appointment with your GP to see what can be done.
You can and will get through the menopause. Hopefully, with these tips, a lot more easily than you thought.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2019 Nell Rose