The combination of menopause and anxiety attacks can make your life very complicated; it is important to understand how to deal with this side effect. Though the attacks may have psychological triggers, changes in hormone levels can make underlying anxiety disorders worse. Treatment depends on whether physical or psychological conditions trigger the episodes.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of intense fear or that something bad is going to happen. It can also manifest as a feeling of losing control. All people feel anxiety at different points in their lives: before giving a presentation at work or before meeting a blind date. This type of anxiety is a normal part of life. However, in some cases, anxiety can become a problem in your daily life and make it difficult to function.
Women—as a rule—are at high risk for having anxiety due to various social and physiological reasons. In addition, anxiety also can be a symptom of menopause and can contribute to the other symptoms of this stage of life.
An extreme case of anxiety which may be almost paralyzing in intensity is called an anxiety attack.
Relationship to Menopause
During menopause, you undergo a substantial decrease in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Fluctuations in hormones can lead to feelings of anxiety and even panic. These hormonal changes can also worsen any underlying anxiety disorder as well. It is important to remember that all anxiety attacks that occur during menopause are not related to physical changes but may also have psychological roots. Only a health care professional can make that diagnosis.
Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks
Anxiety attacks that occur during menopause have similar symptoms as those from other types of anxiety types. These include:
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
Other symptoms that may be more common in women undergoing menopause include:
- Hot flashes
- Muscle tension
Menopause and anxiety attacks together can be debilitating but there may be ways to deal with your complaints.
Treatment of Anxiety Attacks
Your physician needs to evaluate you if you develop anxiety attacks while during menopause. The cause of your anxiety needs to be clarified into order to find the most appropriate therapies for these symptoms.
If the cause is determined to be psychological, you will probably be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist for further evaluation.
If the cause is found to be related more to the physical changes associated with menopause, there are other options for management.
- Exercise: Regular exercise can help relieve stress; it can also improve your blood pressure and strengthen your heart. Regular cardiovascular exercise like walking, running, or swimming can help with your overall health and anxiety level.
- Relaxation: Other ways to manage your anxiety include yoga or meditation. These activities allow you to learn to manage your stress levels. You may also learn techniques to calm yourself when you feel a bout of anxiety coming on.
- Dietary changes: Improving your diet can improve your health but certain types of foods and beverages may contribute to the symptoms of anxiety. Caffeine can cause heart palpitations and interfere with your ability to sleep; this includes coffee, teas, and chocolates. Alcohol causes the same problems. Drinking plenty of water can help you prevent dehydration, which can also lead to headaches and stress.
If your anxiety attacks are severe enough and dietary changes are not sufficient, your physician may recommend medications to help alleviate your symptoms.
- Hormone replacement therapy: Hormone replacement therapy or HRT was commonly prescribed for replace the diminishing estrogen and progesterone levels in the body during menopause. This replacement often relieved many of the symptoms of menopause like insomnia, hot flashes, and anxiety. However, research has shown that taking HRT could increase the risk of developing breast cancer in many women, so physicians stopped prescribing HRT for all women. Physicians do offer it to women for a short time whose menopausal symptoms are so severe that they are unable to function.
- Other hormone replacement strategies: There are other hormonal replacement therapies that have increased in popularity since the concerns with HRT; some of these are herbal while others are soy-based. Soy contains estrogen-like substances. These treatments may help women who are having symptoms like anxiety attacks or hot flashes but they do not work for everyone.
- Anti-anxiety drugs: For severe anxiety associated with menopause, your physician may prescribe prescription anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines. If you need these types of medications, you will probably need some professional follow-up as well.
Menopause and anxiety attacks can go hand-in-hand; however, there are ways to manage this symptom which can allow you to get back to your life.