The hormonal changes women often experience during menopause can cause physical symptoms like hot flushes, night sweats, and headaches. But these changes can also manifest in emotional symptoms, such as mood swings. These are extreme or abrupt fluctuations in mood, where you can go from laughing one minute to crying the next.
More than half of all women experience mood swings during menopause, and while it’s a common symptom, it can nevertheless be a traumatic and troubling time for those who suffer from it.
Causes and symptoms of mood swings
Mood swings are largely the result of hormonal changes in a woman’s body, where levels of hormones such as estrogen (which regulates the production of serotonin, a mood-regulating transmitter) are reduced. They can also be caused by the physical symptoms of menopause. If a woman is experiencing headaches, night sweats, and hot flushes, she may not be sleeping properly and this can go on to affect her emotional state.
Other things that can contribute to mood swings include major events in a woman’s life. At the time of menopause she may be looking after elderly parents, having marriage trouble, mourning the fact that she can no longer have children, or be experiencing ‘empty nest’ syndrome after her children have left home. All of these events can contribute to mood swings during menopause.
Common symptoms of mood swings include frequent mood changes, inexplicable emotions, sadness, lethargy, irritability, aggression, lack of patience, anxiety, and nervousness.
Treatment options for mood swings
Because we know that mood swings are largely caused by fluctuating levels in hormones like estrogen and progesterone, there are treatments available that can help to rectify this imbalance. Three common ways to treat mood swings include lifestyle changes, alternative medicines, and bio-identical hormone replacement therapy.
Making changes to your lifestyle is a low-impact way to help regulate mood swings. This can be achieved through a combination of:
- Stress reduction techniques such as yoga or meditation, which can relax the mind and instil a sense of wellbeing
- A healthy balanced diet that is rich in foods that boost serotonin levels and avoids stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, and sugar-based products
- Regular exercise, which not only increases serotonin and endorphin levels, but improves body image and health as well.
The most popular way to treat menopausal mood swings with alternative medicines is by using natural supplements. These can include:
- Phytoestrogenic supplements – These contain herbal compounds known as phytoestrogens that function just like estrogen in a woman’s body. The most commonly used phytoestrogenic herbs are black cohosh, ginseng, soy, red clover, and dong quai.
- Hormone-regulating supplements – These nourish a woman’s endocrine glands and bolster natural hormone production. Hormone-regulating supplements commonly contain herbs like maca root (a member of the radish family), magnesium, vitamin D, and gelatin.
Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy
In recent years, the use of synthetic hormones in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been linked with an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease. Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) instead makes use of natural hormones, which are considered a perfectly safe alternative to synthetic hormones.
Natural bio-identical hormone replacement therapy involves treating menopausal mood swings with ‘bio-identicals’. These are natural progesterone molecules that are identical those produced by the human body. Bio-identical hormones such as estradiol and micronised progesterone are just as effective as synthetic hormones, but natural and come without the risk factor, having been used to treat menopausal women in Europe for many years.
Serious mood swings
While mood swings during menopause are normal for the majority of women, sometimes they can be an indication of a more serious condition. Conditions that could be related to serious mood swings include:
- Bipolar Disorder – Also known as manic depressive disorder, this condition involves alternating periods of an abnormally elevated mood followed by a deep depression, often for long periods of time
- Depression – Most people experience depression at some time in their lives, but clinical depression is a major depressive disorder that lasts longer and is more severe. It involves a low mood and loss of interest and pleasure in everyday activities, and can be severely debilitating
- Anxiety – This is a common type of mental illness affecting millions of people. Those with an anxiety disorder often feel compelled to avoid stressful situations, which can lead to some people not leaving the house at all. Symptoms include shortness of breath, shaky hands, and a pounding heart.
Mood swings experienced during menopause are normally symptoms of a hormonal imbalance and can be effectively treated in most cases. If there is evidence of more severe or long-lasting mood swings however, you should consider talking to your doctor.