When you were in your 20s and 30s, you probably ignored random aches or other minor physical annoyances, and they usually went away. But in your 40s and beyond those symptoms can come back - often with a different cause, and calling for more serious attention.
Symptom: Heart Palpitations
What it may have meant in your youth: You were in love
What it may signal now: Fluctuating hormones
You expect hot flashes and "senior moments" in the years leading up to menopause, but many women are surprised to find they also have palpitations - their hearts pound or beat irregularly. In one 2007 study of more than 1,000 women in four countries, for example, 12 percent said they'd had this sensation. Yet experts aren't sure why it happens. "It's amazing how little research there is," says menopause researcher Susan D. Reed, M.D., professor of ob-gyn and epidemiology at the University of Washington in Seattle. Shifting hormones - the estrogen-progesterone ratio changes at menopause - likely play some role.
If this happens to you: Such palpitations are usually harmless, but even if yours are mild or occur only once in a while, you can't be sure they're nothing until a doctor checks you out, Dr. Reed cautions. Your physician can test your heart rhythm with an in-office EKG, and may suggest you wear a portable monitor for up to three days. In addition, you'll need to rule out other conditions, such as an overactive thyroid, that can also cause palpitations. If you're a serious coffee or cola drinker (young or old), a switch to decaf might also solve your fluttering-heart problems. And of course, regardless of your age, if your irregular heartbeat is accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, feeling faint, or any other sign of a heart attack, call 911 right away.
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Symptom: Getting Red in the Face
What it may have meant in your youth: Sunburn - or embarrassment
What it may signal now: Rosacea
This inflammatory facial condition creeps up slowly - with a little flushing here, a few red bumps there - until patches of redness, visible blood vessels, and swelling settle in for weeks or months at a time. Accumulated sun exposure is a major cause, so although rosacea can strike at any age, midlife women are particularly prone to it, explains Boca Raton, FL, dermatologist Laura E. Skellchock, M.D.
If this happens to you: Protect yourself from further sun damage by wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen every day. You may need a low-dose topical or oral antibiotic, or a more permanent fix: an intense pulsed light therapy known as a photofacial, which seals blood vessels to prevent blood from pooling under the skin. In a recent British study, this procedure improved symptoms about 50 percent. Dr. Skellchock, who has battled the condition herself, also recommends taking a daily supplement of 3,000 mg of omega-3s and eating a diet rich in produce and low in refined carbs and processed foods to quell the inflammation that makes blood vessels expand. And since, for most sufferers, flare-ups can be triggered by spicy foods, hot beverages, and alcohol, it's wise to avoid these as well. Stress, exercise, and hot flashes can also set off episodes, so try to tamp down tension, stay as cool as possible when working out, and talk to your ob-gyn about ways to relieve flashes.
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Symptom: Always Gotta Go
What it may have meant in your youth: You drank too much soda
What it may signal now: Prolapsed pelvic organs
Your baby may not have been the only thing that descended when you gave birth: Pelvic organs such as the uterus and bladder drop from their intended position in nearly half of women who have had a baby. Shifted organs can partially block the bladder, trapping urine, or the walls of the bladder may become irritated. You continually feel as if you need to visit the bathroom.
If this happens to you: Now's the time to get serious about those Kegels to strengthen the muscles that hold in urine - 60 a day isn't too many, says Cheryl Iglesia, M.D., associate professor of ob-gyn and urology at Georgetown University School of Medicine. Three times each day, do 10 fast contractions and 10 where you hold each tensing for five to 10 seconds before releasing. But be sure to do them properly. "Half of the women I see push down rather than pull up," Dr. Iglesia says. Also talk to your doctor about training yourself to delay a bathroom trip when you feel the urge. If your condition is interfering with your life, your ob-gyn can fit you with a rubber device called a pessary (like Spanx for drooping organs); in serious cases, where the organs have dropped deep into the vaginal cavity, surgery may be needed to tuck them back up.
Related: What's Behind Your Low Energy?
Read the full story to learn about more symptoms that you shouldn't take lightly.
- By Meryl Davids Landau
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