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It's not uncommon for body odour to change during the menopause. Hot flushes cause the body to sweat more and a permanent change in odour can be caused by changes in hormone levels.
Sweat and body odour can be an issue for some women during the menopause transition, especially if they experience hot flushes. In more severe cases, some have to change their clothes or nightclothes, and some even resort to cutting their hair to prevent the feeling that it’s sticking to their neck.
Lots of women tell us they are more aware of their sweat smelling stronger. It’s worth knowing that your sense of smell can change in the menopause and you may think that you smell horrible even though you don’t.
We understand that none of this is very pleasant, and that’s why many women come to us for advice.
Sweat glands regulate temperature and cool you down. In the perimenopause and menopause, the thermoneutral zone (the zone when you’re neither too hot nor too cool) is reduced. Your body reacts by sweating at lower temperatures and making you shiver at higher temperatures than before. That’s why you sweat more during the menopause.
We also sweat more when stressed, anxious, fearful or in pain – another reason many women sweat more in the menopause. Some people also sweat after eating.
A drop in oestrogen levels in the menopause can leave some women with relatively more male hormone (testosterone). This can cause them to have more bacteria in their sweat, and that sweat may smell more. It’s also why acne and skin changes can become an issue in the menopause.
These are found on most of your body. The palms of your hands or soles of your feet have more of them, while your tummy and back have fewer. Eccrine sweat is mostly clear water and doesn’t smell.
These are found in your armpits and around your anus. This sweat contains more proteins, carbohydrates and fats, which means it’s more likely to contain bacteria that cause body odour.
In addition to the menopause, there is a condition called hyperhidrosis which causes excess sweating. This can be medically managed with prescription deodorants, a procedure called electrophoresis, and Botox.
There’s no exact number, but there have been studies into hot flushes, which are often associated with sweating and body odour. From these studies, we know that around 75% of women experience hot flushes or night sweats. These flushes can last around seven years, though one in five women experience hot flushes for over 15 years.
A change in body odour can happen at any time of the menopause transition, whether or not it’s related to hot flushes.
Likewise, if the change in body odour is linked to sweating due to stress or anxiety, it can occur at any time during the menopause transition.
Managing hot flushes and night sweats is the first step towards alleviating body odour.
HRT is the most effective way of managing hot flushes and night sweats. For that reason, many women find it effective. There’s a lot to learn about HRT – the benefits and the potential side effects – before you decide if it’s right for you.
You can learn more about HRT here.
Other options to consider are:
Many women find the following products help:
Most supermarkets and pharmacies sell products for managing sweat, including natural alternatives.
Try to keep cool with loose, light cotton (rather than synthetic) clothing. There are lots of great nightwear options available.
Managing stress and anxiety isn’t always easy, but it can help – read our information on anxiety here where you’ll find lots of practical tips. Try to be prepared for sweats to occur in whichever way you find helpful (clothing, fans, having a bottle of cool water to hand for example). Feeling more prepared may help you avoid being anxious about sweating – and this can help you to break the vicious cycle.
It’s important to know that there are other medical conditions that can result in an increase in sweating. If you have other symptoms or have other concerns, please speak to a doctor.
If you’re worried about body odour, you should see your GP. If you would like to discuss your symptoms in the context of the menopause, book an appointment with our menopause clinic.
Dr Clare Spencer
Registered menopause specialist, GP and co-founder
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Source: Hamoda H, Panay N, Pedder H, Arya R, Savvas M. The British Menopause Society & Women’s Health Concern 2020 recommendations on hormone replacement therapy in menopausal women. Post Reproductive Health. 2020;26(4):181-209.
Source: NICE NG23 2015.