Everything Everyone Needs to Know about the Menopause
Posted on 5th January 2021 at 11:19
Since menopause affects roughly half the population, it’s important for men to understand it as well as women, because it will affect their mothers, sisters, daughters, partners and colleagues.
What is the menopause?
When a woman’s ovaries begin to produce less oestrogen and no longer release an egg every month, her periods stop. Menopause is marked by a year without periods. In the UK, the average age of menopause is 51, with the vast majority of women reaching menopause between 45 and 55.
However, perimenopause – the pre-menopause phase where oestrogen levels are dropping – can last for months or years, as can symptoms (which may persist for years after periods have stopped). While some women pass through perimenopause and menopause without any problems, most have symptoms of some sort. For an unlucky minority these can be severe and/or long-lasting, with profound effects on their physical and mental health.
Symptoms and side-effects
Hot flashes/flushes – Women may experience sudden sweating or flushing, or just feel uncomfortably hot, usually for just a short time (hence, hot ‘flash’). The flushing and heat are typically felt in the face, neck and chest. Some women suffer more at night and have ‘night sweats’.
Breast tenderness and changes – during perimenopause, it’s quite common for women to experience tenderness, sensitivity, lumpiness, aching and throbbing pain as fluctuating hormones affect the ducts and fluid retention in their breasts. They may also sag more and/or become less full. Women should always see a doctor urgently if there is nipple discharge, a hard lump which can’t be moved around, a marked change in the shape of the breast, dimpling on the breast surface, a rash around the nipple or sinking of the nipple into the breast.
Worsened premenstrual syndrome – breast tenderness, irritability, mood swings, irritability, fatigue, bloating, appetite and libido changes.
Decreased libido – some women also find sex less pleasurable, and physical discomfort caused by vaginal dryness can make this worse.
Sleep issues – difficulty getting to sleep and/or staying asleep.
Urine leakage and urinary urgency – such as leaking urine when coughing or sneezing and needing to urinate more urgently and/or frequently.
Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Memory or concentration issues – these symptoms can make women lose confidence in their abilities and feel frustrated, damaging their self-esteem and potentially leading anxiety and depression.
Palpitations – (heartbeats that suddenly feel more forceful or noticeable) or a racing heartbeat.
Irregular or unusually light or heavy periods – some women experience ‘flooding’ (excessive and/or sudden blood loss) during perimenopause, and should always see their doctor if this continues.
Vaginal dryness – this can cause itching and discomfort, and make intercourse uncomfortable.
Skin issues – dryness, itchiness or ‘crawling’ sensations.
Increased hair growth in unwanted areas
Joint stiffness, aches and pains
Reduced muscle mass
Dry mouth and dry eyes
Anxiety, depression or mood swings
Increased risk of osteoporosis, stroke and heart disease
Reducing symptoms and side-effects
Lifestyle changes – regular exercise, stopping smoking and reducing alcohol intake will help, along with a healthy diet containing plenty of fruit, vegetables and calcium-rich foods. Caffeine, smoking and alcohol can make hot flushes worse, and spicy foods may be a trigger too. Exercise and a good diet can help women maintain a healthy weight and prevent loss of muscle mass.
Keeping the bedroom cool – this can make sleeping easier and reduce night sweat discomfort.
Get enough calcium and Vitamin D – getting adequate sunlight (essential for producing the Vitamin D necessary for healthy bones) is important. A Vitamin D and/or calcium supplement may be helpful.
Wearing layers of light clothes made from natural fibres –This can keep women more comfortable and help them to cool off quickly.
CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) – this therapy can help to reduce anxiety and depression and also increase confidence and self-esteem.
Reducing stress – stress can aggravate menopausal symptoms, so reducing stress can make the menopause easier to cope with. Women who have a difficult perimenopause or menopause may need to lessen their workload and responsibilities, both in and outside the home.
Low dose contraceptive pills – these pills can reduce menopause symptoms, regulate periods and make periods lighter. They also help to prevent bone loss (which can lead to osteoporosis) and reduce ovarian and uterine cancer risk.
HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) – available as tablets, patches, gels and implants, these treatments replace dwindling hormones and so reduce the symptoms and risks of menopause, such as heart disease and osteoporosis.
Testosterone supplements – These can restore libido.
Vaginal oestrogen treatments – Available in the form of a cream, pessary or ring, they can improve vaginal dryness and discomfort.
Non-hormonal vaginal lubricants – Helpful if vaginal dryness is causing discomfort, particularly during intercourse.
Lubricating eye drops and oral sprays – To relieve a dry mouth and dry eyes.
While there are many natural remedies claiming to relieve menopause symptoms, there’s not always reliable evidence on their safety or efficacy, and they can interfere with other medications. Women should always check with their doctor before taking them.
By Alison Runham
Tagged as: Health & Beauty
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