Abdominal pain can often be associated with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and this can worsen as women's bodies change through the peri-menopause through to the menopause.
For some, the worsening of IBS can be very stressful and even debilitating. Symptoms overlap so it can be difficult to ascertain what is causing them. This is itself can be stressful, as you will read below, stress (cortisol) can heighten the symptoms. Lifestyle changes and de-stressing is a good place to start when trying to reduce abdominal pain during menopause.
Cause and symptoms of abdominal pain in menopauseAs women’s oestrogen and progesterone levels reduce, some body processes are affected, including the digestion. Hyperplasia means an unusual increase in cellular growth, and with endometrial hyperplasia (the uterine lining) can overgrow, leading to abdominal pain and spotting.
When women supplement oestrogen and not progesterone, or they have a hormonal condition which means their oestrogen is unusually high, endometrial hyperplasia can develop. Other symptoms can include leg pain, increase in urination, constipation and backache. The use of phytoestrogens as supplements for oestrogen, for example soya, can be misplaced, as if there is a pre-existing endometrial hyperplasia, the phytoestrogens can worsen the condition.
Stress and abdominal pain - Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands. As cortisol levels fluctuate in line with life’s stresses and strains, oestrogen levels fluctuate as well. If too much cortisol is released, the digestive system can be affected, causing abdominal pain, discomfort and even diarrhoea. This is why some women experience digestive changes during their menstrual cycle, and this can worsen as they progress through peri-menopause through to the menopause.
What steps can you take to help alleviate the discomfort?
1. Adjusting your diet and lifestyle can make a huge difference.
Try following a low-fat diet that contains plenty of high fibre vegetables and avoid saturated fats (solid at room temperature.) It's important to maintain a heathy balanced weight, avoid smoking and include at least three sessions of exercise in your week.
2. Hormones and supplements can help.
Remember to only introduce one at a time, and allow time for them to take effect. There is a tendency for people to saturate their body’s with multiple remedies, in the hope of help. The problem here is that they cannot tell which is effective. Individual introduction means you don't spend money unnecessarily, and you can also tell what works by monitoring changes in how you feel.
3. Hydration is extremely important for digestion.
Sip throughout the day and avoid too much caffeine. Two cups of coffee or tea is sufficient. Swap to water and herbal teas for the rest of day, or just plain water. If you struggle with water, add sliced lemon, cucumber or mint leaves to add some flavour.
4. Be happy.
Embrace the menopause as an opportunity to eat healthily, exercise regularly and work towards a fit and healthy ageing process. Try relaxation using yoga, Tai Chi, massage, even quiet times at home. The menopause doesn't mean 'the end', it is simply a subtle change and a new sense of freedom.