The menopause is something that every woman goes through, yet many don’t discuss this natural change that marks the permanent end of their menstrual cycle.
A woman is born with between one and two million eggs in her ovaries and throughout her reproductive years, these eggs are regularly released into the fallopian tubes for fertilization by a man’s sperm. If unfertilized, the woman’s body will expel them as part of her period.
As her supply of eggs is run down, her ovaries stop making oestrogen and progesterone, which are the hormones that have regulated the menstrual cycle throughout her life. This results in the end of her monthly periods.
Menopausal signs and symptoms will often begin in a woman’s forties, even though she still may be menstruating. This transition phase is called the peri-menopause, which literally means ‘around the menopause’. It usually lasts between two and six years. It’s important to remember that, although fertility is decreasing, you can still get pregnant during this time.
The symptoms of the menopause include the menstrual pattern getting highly irregular, a period may last fewer or more days and blood flow may become heavier or lighter than usual.
Many women will start experiencing the classic menopausal symptom of the hot flush, which is a sensation of heat or feverishness, mostly in the face, neck and upper chest. It is usually accompanied by reddened skin, and is often followed by heavy sweating and cold shivering, which frequently occur at night.
There may be a loss of libido and a change in feelings toward sex, which can become uncomfortable. A decrease in oestrogen levels causes the tissues of the vulva and the lining of the vagina to become thin, dry and less elastic.
Problems holding urine can also occur, which, combined with the other symptoms, contribute to sleeping problems, leading to issues with short-term memory, irritability and the inability to concentrate.
Technically, a woman doesn’t actually hit the menopause until it’s been one year since her last period. The years that follow are called the post-menopause. Typically, women tend to feel more like themselves again and are more emotionally stable and mentally strong. Some of the symptoms, however, may linger.
She gets a bit grumpy and weepy and…
Yes, I get…do get terrible mood swings.
Uh, vaginal dryness.
Even though the menopause is not an illness, you shouldn’t hesitate to get treatment if you’re experiencing severe symptoms. There are many possible treatment options, and the most common one is hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. This treatment involves replacing the lost oestrogen and is most effective in relieving the hot flushes and the vaginal and urinary symptoms. Tibolone is a synthetic steroid and like HRT, is effective in reducing hot flushes, but it is also particularly helpful for those with a reduced libido.
In addition to these medical treatments, there are a number of lifestyle and home treatments that can be beneficial. For instance, to deal with hot flushes, try to pinpoint and then avoid what triggers them. Alcohol, hot drinks and spicy foods can all be responsible, as can a heightened emotional state. Clearly, these things can be hard to avoid, but, if you are aware of the triggers, you will be able to prevent the symptoms before they occur. For issues like vaginal discomfort, many women use over-the-counter water-based lubricants. It is also important to eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
Menopause is a natural state in a woman’s life and nothing to be embarrassed about or frightened about, but there are some common concerns and myths surrounding this time of transition.
A loss of femininity and sexuality are common concerns, but the menopause doesn’t have to signal this. In fact, you may be one of many women who find it liberating to stop worrying about pregnancy and periods. Weight gain is another major concern. Middle age spread is often linked to the hormonal changes at this time of life, but as yet there is no conclusive proof. Those extra inches could just be part of getting older and being less active.
Does the menopause signal the end is near? Absolutely not. The truth is that you’ve still got as much as half your life to go and many women who’ve completed the menopause look back on it as a passageway to a new positive phase of life. Most report that they now feel more confident, empowered, and energized than ever before.
Remember that if you have any concerns about the menopause or its symptoms, talk to your GP as there are plenty of options available, and there is no need to suffer in silence.
Dr Pixie presents an exclusive guide to the menopause. In the guide she discusses why it occurs, what treatment options are available if the symptoms are severe, as well as examining some of the common myths surrounding this natural stage of a woman’s life.
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