Menstrual Health Centre

Menopause

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Your body’s been with you for a while

Anyone can forgive it for slowing down a bit

You’re not getting older: you’re just ‘a certain age’. And, it’s really not so bad. Did you know that post-menopause, 70% of women with migraines see an improvement1? And if you have currently have PMS, you can expect the symptoms to melt away once you complete the menopause. (It’s all those hormones, seething a bit less, and settling down into elegant refinement.)

So if you’re going through ‘the change’ right now, and you
get the odd hot flush, think of it as making you a bit sultrier. Like Marlene Dietrich, just with a supermarket points card.

What is the menopause?

Here’s the scientific bit: the menopause is the stage in our later lives when we become unable to become pregnant. For most of us, it’s just a natural part of entering middle age, as eggs are no longer released into the womb.

The average age of menopause in the UK is 52, but for some women it happens in their 40s or late 50s2. Periods can stop for a while, and then start again. So, we only really finish the menopause after a year without periods.

Some people call the years leading up to a woman’s last period ‘the menopause’, although the scientific name for that is actually perimenopause.

What is perimenopause?

The perimenopause is sometimes called ‘the menopausal transition’. It’s the time leading up to our last period, when our bodies decrease their levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

These changes may cause symptoms like hot flushes. Some symptoms can last for months or years after our periods stops. After menopause, we enter the ‘postmenopause’ - which is a fancy term for the rest of our lives. (Well, doctors love Latin.)

Looking after your bones3

Because the menopause lowers our oestrogen levels, it’s normal for bones to become a bit thinner and weaker. If bones weaken a lot, a condition called ‘osteoporosis’ occurs, where fractures are more likely. So as we reach the menopause, it makes sense to take more care of our bones - and ourselves4.

You can help to keep your bones strong with exercise like walking, climbing stairs, or using weights. You can also promote bone health by eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D - or taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. If you smoke, consider quitting - it can help your bones stay much stronger.

If you’re worried, or have a family history of osteoporosis, ask your doctor if you need a bone density test. Your doctor can also suggest ways to prevent or treat osteoporosis.

Healthy at heart

Our hearts are incredible, working non- stop all our lives. After the menopause, it’s important to keep the heart healthy for lots of good reasons. One is that lower levels of oestrogen can affect the old ticker. But, so too, can simply aging5.

The good news is, we don’t have to be terrified of heart disease, or ‘cardiovascular disease’ as medics call it. Nor associated problems like strokes.

That’s because we can help to keep strokes and heart disease at bay by living a healthy life - and even small changes can be a big improvement for the better. Helping us to live longer, feel better, and keep up with all the things we love.

Simple changes include quitting smoking, and avoiding fatty food, food with high salt, or heavy drinking. It’s a good idea to exercise and eat healthily, too. Green vegetables, high fibre foods, cutting down on saturated fats and increasing mono and polysaturated fats in combination with exercise can all help to reduce heart disease risk6.

If you’re worried, or have a family history of heart disease, ask your doctor if you need a test for cholesterol or high blood pressure. Your doctor can also suggest ways to prevent or treat heart disease.

Should I talk to my doctor?

If you experience pain, strange bleeding after your periods have stopped, or very bad symptoms of any sort, talk to your GP, too. There are lots of things that can be done for severe menopause symptoms like very bad mood swings or forgetfulness. So, don’t suffer in silence.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

Some women find Hormone Replacement Therapy - or HRT - useful. Because it replaces the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, that decline during the menopause, HRT can reduce symptoms like hot flushes and bone loss7.

It’s not right for every woman, and it’s worth remembering that the menopause is a natural part of middle age. If your symptoms aren’t bad, it might not be worth taking HRT. There are risks of using HRT, so ensure you talk to your doctor to learn more.

Signs of menopause8

We all go through the menopause - in our own way

So, you may not have the same experience as your friends. They may enter the menopause earlier, or feel it a little more. Some of the most common things that happen to our bodies are below.

  • Irregular periods

  • Periods can come more often or less frequently
  • Last more days than before, or fewer
  • Be lighter or heavier than normal
  • Hot flushes

  • Sudden feelings of heat all over
  • Feeling heat on the upper part of the body
  • Flushing around the neck and face
  • Red blotches or patches on the arms, back and chest
  • After the hot flush, heavy sweating and cold shivering
  • Trouble sleeping

  • Night sweats
  • Vaginal and urinary problems
  • Hormonal changes

  • Drier and thinner vaginal tissue, which can make sex uncomfortable
  • More infections in the vagina
  • More urinary tract infections
  • Not being able to hold your urine long enough to get to the bathroom
  • Mood changes

  • Have mood swings
  • Crying more often
  • Feeling grumpy
  • Changing feelings about sex

  • Feel less interested in sex
  • Feel less comfortable with your sexuality
  • Other changes

  • Forgetfulness or trouble focusing
  • Losing muscle, gaining fat, and having a larger waist
  • Feeling stiff or achy

  1. 1 http://www.headache-adviser.com/menopause-migraine-headache.html
       http://www.headacheuk.org/MigraineInWomen.pdf
  2. 2 http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/menopause/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  3. 3 http://www.nos.org.uk/page.aspx?pid=248
  4. 4 http://www.menopausematters.co.uk/osteoporosis.php
  5. 5 http://www.menopausematters.co.uk/cvd.php
  6. 6 http://www.menopausematters.co.uk/cvdreducerisks.php
  7. 7 http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hormone-replacement-therapy/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  8. 8 http://www.menopausematters.co.uk/symptoms.php

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