Women entering menopause often have no idea what changes to expect in their body, meaning typical symptoms can be scary. However, they can also be caused by issues other than menopause. Because menopause changes lots of things in a woman’s body, it’s not uncommon for doctors to misdiagnose more serious conditions as symptoms of menopause. Here are some of the issues that are often mistaken for menopause.
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1. Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer affects more than 23,000 American women a year. Eighty percent of them won’t know they have ovarian cancer until it’s stage III or IV. In large part that’s because the disease’s early symptoms are so generic: bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and a frequent need to urinate. These symptoms are also consistent with menopause, or women might just ignore them because they think they’re gaining weight or just aging. Doctors urge women who experience the onset of all these symptoms at once to get insistent about further testing for ovarian cancer. That usually means an ultrasound or exploratory surgery to examine the ovaries directly.
2. Thyroid Issues
Because hormones are imbalanced during menopause, symptoms of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism might be overlooked by a doctor when prescribing treatments. Symptoms like fatigue, depression, mood swings, and sleep disturbances are all symptoms of menopause, but they’re also symptoms of thyroid problems. In 2015 the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) found that only one in four women who had discussed menopause with her doctor was also tested for thyroid disease. That means 75% of women might be able to better manage their hormone balance and control symptoms like joint and muscle pain, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and headaches—but don’t even know it.
Olgiomenorrhea is essentially the condition of having light or infrequent menstrual cycles, and at some point during menopause, every woman has it. However, this condition can also be cause by thyroid imbalances like we discussed above, many different reproductive cancers, and even pituitary tumors.
Women entering menopause, or whose doctors tell them they are, should consider starting to track both their periods and the frequency of their symptoms. This will help you see patterns and notice if and when changes occur. Make sure you tell your doctor all these symptoms so they can figure out the best treatments.