5 Menopausal Symptoms Often Mistaken for an STI
Menopausal symptoms are sometimes unpleasant, but usually nothing to worry about. But what if the symptoms you are experiencing are a sign of something else?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and menopause, confusingly, share some of the same symptoms. For sexually active women going through menopause, it can be difficult to determine STI symptoms vs menopause symptoms. This uncertainty can add stress to an already challenging time - not what you want!
To help clear things up a little, here's a brief overview of what happens during menopause and discuss common symptoms that can also be a sign of an STI.
The quick answer: get tested for STIs to rule them out as a cause for unusual symptoms. Grab a test kit here at Yoxly, and it’s delivered right to your door! Now onto the menopause...
What is the menopause?
The menopause marks the end of a woman’s natural reproductive life. It occurs due to a natural drop in the hormone, oestrogen, which causes the ovaries to stop releasing eggs every month. This is a gradual process that is a natural part of ageing for all ovary-owning people. It can take months to years until, eventually, you stop releasing eggs altogether. At this point, you are no longer able to conceive naturally. This time before your final period is known as the perimenopause.
Most women experience menopause between 45-55 years old. However, some women reach this stage prematurely, sometimes before the age of 40.
A drop in oestrogen affects our bodies in several ways. One of the first tell-tale signs you are entering perimenopause is changes in your menstrual cycle; for example, your periods may become irregular, or your cycle may become longer. However there’s a whole host of othersymptoms that accompany this drop in oestrogen.
What are symptoms of menopause?
Every woman experiences menopause differently. Some may experience just a few, mild symptoms, while others may have more severe symptoms. Below are some examples of common symptoms:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Pain or discomfort during sex
- Vulval itch
- Low mood and anxiety
- Mood swings
- Brain fog
- Joint and muscle pain
- Changes in libido
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Urinary tract infections
But here’s where it gets confusing: Many of these symptoms are also symptoms of STIs! As such, we might chalk up any unusual changes in our body to menopause, when in fact, we could be overlooking an infection. And vice versa. With so many changes happening to your body, it can be hard to make heads and tails of it all.
Can you get an STI after menopause?
While menopause marks the end of your reproductive years, unfortunately, you can still get an STI after menopause. Some women find sexual freedom after menopause, as contraception and pregnancy scares become a thing of the past. While others may find their sexual libido drops significantly.
But for those who find they are sexually liberated - hold your horses. It’s not time to throw away the condoms. It’s still just as important to consider barrier methods to protect against STIs.
Can menopause cause an STI?
No, menopause can’t cause an STI. However it can produce unpleasant symptoms which are often mistaken for an STI. 5 of the most common menopausal symptoms often mistaken for an STI include:
- Painful sex
- Irregular menstrual bleeding
- Different vaginal discharge
- Vaginal itching or discomfort
Menopause can cause a number of changes in the vagina, and the drop in oestrogen during menopause can cause dryness and thinning of the vulval and vaginal tissues, known as vulvovaginal atrophy. This subsequent irritation can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable (dyspareunia), and for some women, sex can be impossible.
Similarly, many STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, cause vaginal irritation and pelvic pain, which can also make sex painful. These can be tested for using Yoxly’s basic STI test kit.
As discussed above, as you enter menopause, a lack of oestrogen can wreak havoc on your normal monthly hormonal cycle. You may notice your periods become irregular, less frequent or heavier.
STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea can also cause abnormal bleeding, particularly spotting between periods and heavier bleeding. If you are experiencing bleeding in between periods, or a significant change to your menstrual flow, it’s important to seek advice from a healthcare provider, as well as check for common infections.
During perimenopause, you may notice changes to your vaginal discharge. For some women, it may become more or less copious, have a brownish tint, or be different in texture. These changes can be totally normal, however, may also indicate something else is going on.
A very common symptom of many STIs and other infections in your private parts is a change in the look, consistency and smell of your vaginal discharge. Yellow or green discharge is a strong indicator of an STI such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia or trichomoniasis. A thick, white discharge resembling cottage cheese may be a sign of a yeast infection. And grey, watery discharge that smells like fish is a likely sign of bacterial vaginosis.
Read our previous blog post, which explains all you need to know about changes in vaginal discharge. Yoxly’s basic+ at home STI test kit gives you rapid results for three infections that commonly cause a change in vaginal discharge.
Drier and thinner vaginal tissues are common menopause symptoms that can lead to vaginal itchiness and discomfort. Similarly, many STIs, such as chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, trichomoniasis, and gonorrhoea, can cause vaginal itching and irritation. One of the most common causes of vagina itch is a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis, both of which, unfortunately, can be more common during and after menopause.
Fatigue is common during and after menopause. According to one study, 85% of post-menopausal women and 46% of perimenopausal experience physical and mental exhaustion.
But did you know that fatigue can be a symptom of undiagnosed viral infections such as hepatitis A, B and C, and HIV? If you’ve had unprotected sex and are feeling unusually tired, it’s worth having an STI screen to rule out infection.
Determining the cause of your symptoms can be challenging and distressing. But the important thing is not to ignore them, as you don’t want to leave an STI untreated. If you’re unsure whether your symptoms are due to menopause or an STI, set your mind at ease by taking one of Yoxly’s at-home STI testing kits. The process is simple, stress-free and convenient!
Menopause is a natural part of the ageing process, triggered by a decline in oestrogen levels.
Many symptoms of menopause can also be due to an STI, such as painful sex, irregular bleeding, vaginal itchiness or discomfort, unusual vaginal discharge and fatigue. This means we may leave an STI undiagnosed and untreated if we chalk it up to menopause.
If you notice any unusual changes in your body and are unsure of the cause, it's always better to be safe than sorry. Rule out an STI by taking one of Yoxly’s at-home STI tests. Or seek medical advice if you are still uncertain.