Menopause is defined as the end of a woman’s monthly flow of menstrual blood and is the result of a natural decline in ovarian function. Signs and symptoms of menopause may affect a woman’s psychology, sense of well-being, nervous system, heart, brain, muscles and gastrointestinal system. Some women experience one or more symptoms and some women experience no symptoms. Common complaints involve hot flashes, perspiration, irritability, dizziness, numbness, fatigue, nervousness, heart palpitations, vaginal dryness, nausea, gas, bloating, urinary incontinence, constipation, diarrhea, muscle pain, depression and insomnia.
During perimenopause and menopause, the gastrointestinal tract slows down, which contributes to constipation, and constipation may cause hormonal imbalances. Author Dawn M. Olsen, founder of the Menopause A to Z website, explains if a woman going through menopause is also dealing with stress, constipation and indigestion can worsen, especially if she overeats, eats certain foods or eats too quickly. Not drinking enough water may lead to dehydration and contribute to constipation. Constipation can be problematic, because daily bowel movements are essential to eliminate waste from the body and may be crucial for maintaining hormonal balance as women go through menopause.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common disease with many symptoms including gas, abdominal pain and bloating. Dr. Margaret M. Heitkemper, Ph.D., of the Department of Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems at the University of Washington in Seattle, conducted a review of scientific literature about the possibility that fluctuations in ovarian hormones affect gastrointestinal symptoms in women with irritable bowel syndrome. Symptoms increase around the time of menopause and occur at times when ovarian hormones are declining, indicating that the decrease of estrogen and progesterone may contribute to abdominal and gastrointestinal discomfort in menopausal women whether or not they have irritable bowel syndrome.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Many women in menopause develop acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease, known as GERD. This condition occurs when the lower part of the esophageal sphincter does not close properly, allowing stomach contents to reflux or leak back into the esophagus. One of the main symptoms of GERD is persistent heartburn caused by acid regurgitation; however, some women who have gastroesophageal reflux disease do not suffer from heartburn. Women may experience a burning or choking sensation in the throat, chest pain, trouble swallowing and morning hoarseness.
Mary Infantino, RN, Ph.D., Director of the Graduate Nursing Program at Long Island University in New York conducted a study in 2008 on gastroesophageal reflux symptoms in perimenopausal and menopausal women. The research found that perimenopausal and menopausal women had higher percentages of GERD diagnoses than premenopausal women and that menopausal patients had significantly more upper gastrointestinal discomfort. Dr. Infantino’s research found that menopausal women were nearly three times more likely to have GERD symptoms, suggesting a hormonal link between menopause and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
If a menopausal woman notices she is burping more than usual, her esophagus may be transporting air in the wrong direction. This condition can be caused by hormonal fluctuations that may impact esophageal functioning, according to Judith Paley, M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Women of menopausal age are likely to carry extra weight and this may make them more susceptible to esophageal reflux. To decrease air swallowing, women should not chew gum, eat hard candies or talk while eating.