For those of us with spinal cord injuries, we’re no strangers to challenges. When the transition to menopause, which is known as perimenopause, begins, it’s a new and unique challenge to face. Going through perimenopause with a spinal cord injury isn’t always easy. However, with the right support and information, you can get through this time of transition.
My name is Meena, and I live with a spinal cord injury. You can find out more about my story here. As women with spinal cord injuries, we know that learning how to function independently after our injury is very important. However, I believe it’s just as important to understand how living with a spinal cord injury can impact other health issues that may arise over time.
Let’s go over some things to know about going through perimenopause with a spinal cord injury.
What is Perimenopause?
First, it’s important to know what perimenopause and menopause are. Menopause is when the monthly menstruation cycle stops. The years of hormonal transition leading to the last period is known as perimenopause.
Every person is different. However, most women begin perimenopause sometime during their 40s. However, this depends from person to person. Also, it may depend on an individual’s family history. For instance, if your mother or other immediate female relatives experienced perimenopause early, it is good to pay attention to this and know when to monitor yourself.
As you enter perimenopause, your body will go through changes in hormone levels, including estrogen and progesterone. These hormonal changes may create issues such as an irregular menstrual cycle and night sweats. We’ll go over more details of the possible symptoms of perimenopause below.
Symptoms of Perimenopause with a Spinal Cord Injury
Those going through the transition to menopause can experience a variety of symptoms. Not everyone’s experience is exactly the same so symptoms can vary from one person to the next. Also, the level of one’s spinal cord injury may also play a part in which symptoms are detectable. However, for the most part, most women do experience hot flashes and irregular menstrual cycles.
Common symptoms of perimenopause may include:
- Hot flashes and/or night sweats
- Mood changes
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Increased infections, such as yeast infections or urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Difficulty focusing
- Difficulty sleeping
Many of these symptoms can be uncomfortable, but a gynecologist or urogynecologist can discuss some management options with you.
When it comes to an irregular menstrual cycle, you might notice some months are a few days shorter. You might even miss a cycle altogether at times. As your cycle begins to decrease more, continue having regular wellness checks with your physician. Also, if your symptoms become severe or uncomfortable, talk to your doctor. They may have some helpful solutions.
Remember it’s completely normal to experience unusual mood swings, such as feeling blue or crying more often. Extra self-care during this time of transition will help a lot.
Bowel and Bladder Issues During Perimenopause
As a person with a spinal cord injury, you may already have a regular bowel and bladder management program you follow, which may include the use of intermittent catheters or incontinence supplies. Keep in mind that as your hormone levels change, this can impact both your bladder and bowel.
For example, some hormonal fluctuations around your cycle can stimulate your bowel. Going through perimenopause with a spinal cord injury may require some adjustments in frequency to your bowel management program. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.
Also, during perimenopause, some women experience an increase in infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) or yeast infections. For those of us with spinal cord injuries, this type of infection may be harder to catch right away, so always watch out for symptoms of UTIs. Talk to your doctor as soon as you notice signs of infection so they can treat the issue swiftly.
If you use intermittent catheters and get frequent UTIs, you might look at trying a sterile closed system catheter kit or a hydrophilic catheter.
Touch-free catheters like these have unique features that keep your hands from directly touching the catheter tube. This reduces the risk of contamination from the hands, which may also help reduce the risk of catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs).
Additional Precautions for Perimenopause with a Spinal Cord Injury
Perimenopause is a unique challenge for women with a spinal cord injury because it can mask or even mimic other conditions, such as:
- Autonomic dysreflexia
- Overheating (impaired temperature regulation)
Autonomic dysreflexia is an especially serious issue for those of us with spinal cord injuries. As you go through hot flashes or excessive sweating, watch out for signs of overheating or autonomic dysreflexia, which can create sudden spikes of high blood pressure, shortness of breath, and excessive sweating.
Any issues like this should be closely monitored by your treating physician.
When to See Your Doctor About Perimenopause
I think it’s ideal to find a gynecologist who has experience with treating women with spinal cord injuries. However, it isn’t always easy to find them. If you have any fellow friends with spinal cord injuries or disabilities locally, they may have personal recommendations for you. Also, your physical rehabilitation physician or general practitioner may be able to refer you to a nearby gynecologist.
You should be having regular wellness checkups at least annually or according to your doctor’s directions. This will help catch any other issues, such as uterine fibroids or cysts, which can cause discomfort and unusual bleeding.
However, as you begin to approach the age when perimenopause is a concern, it’s time to approach your doctor about possible symptoms of perimenopause as well as any other questions you might have about what to expect during this time.
I find it helps to make a list of every question, concern, and symptom I have before my appointment. Continue having regular wellness checks, and don’t be afraid to schedule additional appointments to discuss solutions to symptoms as they appear.
Lastly, keep taking care of your health, which is a big part of self-care when living with a spinal cord injury. You’ll get through the challenges during this time of transition just like you have conquered many other challenges so far.
If you need a reliable company for catheter or incontinence supplies during this time, contact 180 Medical. Their specialists are friendly and will be glad to help you find a product that fits your needs.