Sunday 18th October is World Menopause Day. To raise awareness about the menopause, Audit and Compliance Executive, Jen Corcoran writes about what it is and the effects it has.
What is ‘The Menopause’?
The menopause is known colloquially as ‘the change’, or ‘the change of life’. Etymologically it literally means the “end of monthly cycles”.
The NHS website lists the menopause as a condition and offers the simple explanation that the menopause is “when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally”.
Biologically speaking it is caused by a natural decline in the hormone oestrogen and the usual age for this to occur is between 45 and 55 years of age. The NHS suggest that ‘around 1 in 100 women experience the menopause before the age of 40’, which is known as premature menopause.
It either occurs through a natural process of ageing or can be a ‘surgical menopause’ if you require radical treatment for gynaecological issues.
What are the symptoms of the menopause?
The more commonly known symptoms include:
- Hot Flushes – literally a wave of heat throughout the body as the adjusting hormone levels fail to regulate temperature. Hot flushes can be triggered by things like spicy food, caffeine, medical conditions or stress, but often occur without warning;
- Night Sweats – another result of the body’s internal temperature control not working, some people going through the menopause experience such a change in temperature that sweat soaks their nightclothes and bedding, even if the room is cool;
- Vaginal Dryness – the affected hormones are responsible for the vagina’s natural lubrication, and as such, the drop in hormones can reduce lubrication. This in turn can lead to general discomfort, discomfort or pain during intercourse, increased frequency of urination and higher risk of urinary tract infections;
- Reduced Libido – hormones can also be responsible for sex drive, and this can be impacted during the menopause;
- Low Mood or Anxiety – it is not always easy to identify the correlation with mental and physical health as they are interlinked, but many have reported a drop in their mood as well as other symptoms.
It is important to note that these symptoms do not always mean you are beginning to go through the menopause, as there are many other conditions and external factors that could also be at fault. But if you do have any of these symptoms and they trouble you, it is sensible to see your GP.
There are a great many more symptoms as every person is different and our bodies are wonderfully complex. On her website megsmenopause.com, Meg Mathews identifies 34 symptoms of the menopause ranging from the physical symptoms above, to psychological symptoms, physical changes and pain.
How is the menopause diagnosed?
Your GP can arrange a blood test to measure hormone levels and this is carried out alongside the monitoring of your symptoms. The absence of the menstrual period for a year can lead to a diagnosis of the menopause. However, as some hormonal contraceptives also cause menstruation to stop, other factors need to be considered, such as the other symptoms mentioned above.
How long does the menopause last?
The symptoms and length of transition vary from person to person.
The earlier stages are known as ‘peri-menopause’ and the average length of time from the initial symptoms to the final stages – where the monthly periods stop completely – is four years. However, this can last as long as ten years for some.
Factors that affect the duration are your body type, family history and lifestyle, as well as how quickly the symptoms are detected and attributed to the menopause.
Remember that until the menopause is complete, you can still conceive so do not mistake the early signs for an end to fertility. Whilst it is statistically harder to get pregnant later in your reproductive life, it is not impossible!
Is there any treatment for the menopause?
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a treatment that can offer a low dose of the hormones that are depleting.
The hormones in HRT are oestrogen and progestogen, and can be taken as tablets, applied as patches or gel to the skin, or a vaginal cream, pessary or ring.
There are many myths about HRT so it is important to discuss it with your GP, as everyone is different and may have different requirements.
Where can I go for more information?
Menopause Matters is a website founded by gynaecologist Dr Heather Currie. It started as a print magazine before moving online, and features clinician contributions about all aspects of the menopause and up to date information and research.
Three years ago, Meg Mathews launched her website Megs Menopause. She is possibly best known as a high profile PR and event planner from the late nineties who was married to Oasis front man Noel Gallagher.
Meg turned 50 in 2016 and began to experience symptoms of the menopause but was shocked by the lack of understanding and support so made it her mission to empower women through honest and frank discussions. The website has a host of articles including discussions around symptoms, lifestyle and the impact of the menopause on transgender men and women.
Meg is listed as one of the champions on new website gen-m.com. The site claims to have the best of the menopause all in one place and is ‘on a mission to make the menopause better today than it was yesterday’. The brand has social media presence across various channels and brings together the latest news and conversations about the topic of menopause.
- Know the symptoms & dilute the taboo – read up on the menopause, talk to family and friends about their experiences
- Know your body & trust yourself – what is right/normal for you? If you are concerned then visit your GP. If your GP is not receptive, get a second opinion.
- Average age of menopause – 45-55
- 40-45 is early menopause, below 40 is premature menopause
- At least 34 symptoms have been identified
- Average time from first symptoms to final stage = 4 years
- You can still conceive during peri-menopause
- Everybody has a different experience, but nobody is alone