Your experience of the menopause will be affected by many different things, not just what’s happening in your body. Sometimes, just knowing what to expect and how to manage specific menopausal symptoms can really help.
The menopause may be just one of many significant events happening in your life, such as your children leaving home or getting a promotion at work. Trying to juggle responsibilities, cultural and natural differences, and your surroundings can shape how you're affected by the menopause.
However you feel about the menopause, you may find the physical and mental symptoms hard to manage. Don’t be afraid to talk about it and ask for help if needed.
What is the menopause?
The menopause is a natural part of the ageing process for those with a menstrual cycle. Put simply, the menopause is when you stop having periods and are no longer able to get pregnant naturally. It happens when your ovaries age and naturally produce lower levels of reproductive hormones. If you’ve had a hysterectomy and had your ovaries removed, you will immediately reach menopause. This is known as surgical menopause and can happen to women of any age.
The average age of menopause is 51 but it may happen sooner or later than this. Around one in 100 people experience the menopause before they reach 40, which can be the result of surgery/drugs or happen naturally.
The perimenopause is the time when your body starts transitioning towards the menopause, and your ovaries slow down. It can start months or years before the menopause. You might experience irregular periods that are lighter or heavier than normal, hot flushes, mood swings, sleep problems and fatigue.
Symptoms of the menopause
8 out of 10 people have symptoms in addition to their periods stopping. The type and severity of symptoms can vary, and some are the same as the symptoms that can occur during the perimenopause.
Symptoms on average persist for around 4 years from the last period, but 1 in 10 people going through the menopause experience have much longer difficulties and can last up to 12 years.
Common menopausal symptoms include:
- hot flushes & night sweats
- sleep disturbance / fatigue
- mood swings
- brain fog, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
- loss of interest in sex
- vaginal dryness or pain
Positively, the menopause can also provide you with an opportunity to review your health and lifestyle, at the same time as managing symptoms and/or seeking treatment.
Steps you can take to feel more comfortable:
- Consider your diet and/or take dietary supplements
- Stay active to help convert stress into positive energy and keep healthy
- Stop smoking and limit alcohol & caffeine
- Wear natural fabrics and loose layered clothing to help with hot flushes
- You could also consider carrying a portable fan around with you
- Engage in an open discussion with your manager/colleagues
- Create to-do lists and reminders to help with memory and concentration issues
- Relaxation techniques, mindfulness and CBT can be helpful where there is anxiety/low mood
- Seek medical advice if symptoms are negatively impacting your life
- Discuss the pros and cons of treatment options (Hormone Replacement Therapy)
You may feel overwhelmed with the symptoms you experience leading up to and during the menopause, but remember this is also a time to talk and can inspire you to make positive lifestyle changes.
Don't be afraid to talk about what is happening to you, whether it's with your partner, GP, employer or trusted friend. There are also online resources and forums available where you could talk anonymously.
Asking for support and sharing your experience can be powerful steps to experiencing a healthier, more fulfilled transition.