From weight gain and mood swings to vaginal dryness and thinning hair, many of the symptoms of menopause can be attributed, at least in part, to the body’s dramatic decrease in production of estrogen and progesterone.
The drop in estrogen may also affect your breathing. While the research isn’t conclusive, it shows that the onset of menopause was associated with a higher chance of developing asthma compared with before menopause. Starting periods early (before age 11) and having irregular periods were also associated with a higher rate of asthma. So hormones seem to play a role, but it’s unclear exactly what that role is.
Women who haven’t experienced breathing problems earlier in life, especially those who view themselves as fit and healthy, may ignore the symptoms, which include a tightness in the chest and wheezing, or convince themselves that it’s just allergies. If your breathing has changed, talk to your doctor. There isn’t a cure, but with treatment, asthma can be controlled. And as with other medical conditions, the early you start treatment, the easier it is to control.
Also, asthma is another factor you should take into consideration when you’re thinking about whether to start hormone therapy (HT). And it’s a complicated factor! Research shows that HT might actually help asthma in women who have it before menopause. But if you’re postmenopausal and haven’t had it, reintroducing estrogen back into the body could increase your chance of developing asthma.
Again, more research needs to be done on the relationship between hormones and asthma, but talking with your doctor about any breathing issues is important to making the right choice about HT, given your health history and the severity of your menopausal symptoms.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.