Menopause is a change of life period for a woman during when she stops having a menstrual period. The time surrounding the menopause is known as the ‘perimenopause’, ‘peri’ meaning around. It usually occurs around the age of 50 but can be much earlier or somewhat later.
The symptoms that a woman experiences whilst going through menopause are due to changes in the hormones, most importantly a drop in the amount of oestrogen being produced by the body.
As oestrogen affects a broad number of areas of the body, the symptoms can be felt in a wide variety of parts of the body. Further, the ‘severity’ of symptoms of menopause can vary significantly from woman to woman.
Some seem to breeze through and require no medical involvement at all, others suffer with quite severe symptoms which can be addressed through a variety of strategies and medications.
One of the first signs you may be perimenopausal may be that your periods become less regular. A person is usually considered to be menopausal once they have not had a period for more than 12 months. It is important that your usual form of contraception continues until you are menopausal as there are cases of women who have become pregnant after assuming they were menopausal.
Some other signs of menopause may include:
-vaginal dryness or vaginal atrophy
-loss of libido (interest in sexual activity)
-‘hot flushes’ or ‘hot flashes’ and night sweats
-irritability and a change in your mood, and sometimes depression or anxiety
Recognising the symptoms of menopause and being able to attribute the cause for some of these experiences in itself can help some women with managing, as they are reassured that they ‘aren’t going crazy’ or that there might be an underlying medical condition causing them. From this perspective alone it is worth a consultation with your GP to discuss any symptoms that you are experiencing.
In other instances, there are simple measures that can be helpful to relieve symptoms (for example cooling yourself with a fan for hot flushes or ensuring to use lubricants for sexual intercourse to assist with dryness. ‘Healthy living’ which focuses on maintaining habits which promote health can have an enormous impact on the symptoms of menopause and is one of the easiest to implement. Examples would include- maintaining a healthy weight, exercising daily, employing stress reduction techniques, practicing good sleep hygiene, minimising alcohol consumption and quitting smoking if you’re a smoker.
At other times medication can be used to address symptoms.
Examples of some medications used include:
-MHT (Menopausal Hormone Therapy) previously known as HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) which may include tablets, creams or gels
-some medications which are designed to treat other diseases such as depression, epilepsy and high blood pressure can help with specific symptoms of menopause.
It is also important to consider that there are other broader impacts of menopause to your health such as an increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures aswell as heart disease once a person has gone through menopause. The usual age of menopause (50) also coincides with the time when men and women both start to have increased risk of a variety of diseases making it a very important time to develop a good relationship with your GP and ensure you are having all the appropriate preventive health checks.
Menopause can be difficult for many women who have been well all their life and suddenly find themselves undergoing a variety of tests and screens and seeing the doctor much more frequently than they needed to in their 30s or 40s. It is very important that as much as possible you ‘lean in’ to this and get the appropriate checks done. Appropriate screening and early intervention will be a lot less hassle than treating diseases or issues that have been allowed to linger or remained undetected.
Useful Links: https://www.jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/menopause
Easy to understand videos about menopause from the Australian Menopause Society