- What Is Menopause?
- What Causes Menopause?
- What Complications Can Arise?
- How Is It Diagnosed?
- What Are the Early Signs of Menopause?
- When Does Menopause Start?
- What Are the 34 Symptoms of Menopause?
- Post-Menopause Symptoms
- When Should You See a GP?
- How Long Does Menopause Last?
- Treatments for Menopause
- Supplements for Menopause
- What Is the Outlook?
As women get older, you may start to experience hot flushes, mood swings, and irregular periods, the trademark symptoms of the menopause. By understanding the symptoms and side effects of the menopause, you can prepare your body and mind for this transition.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause, when a woman stops having regular periods, is a natural ageing process that usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. As oestrogen levels diminish, women typically notice longer and longer durations between their periods, and eventually they stop entirely. In rare cases, menstruation stops suddenly.
Once the menopause occurs, a woman can no longer conceive a child naturally. The average UK age of menopause is 51. In rare cases, women go through the menopause when they are under the age of 40. This is referred to as ‘premature menopause.’
What Causes Menopause?
Menopause occurs when the body’s sex hormones begin to decrease, which is usually the result of ageing. As your ovaries start to produce less oestrogen, you no longer release an egg each month.
Menopause can also be caused by treatment for certain health issues, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy for breast cancer. Down’s syndrome or Addison’s disease can also cause menopause, and it occurs when the ovaries need to be removed (an oophorectomy).
What Complications Can Arise?
Menopause symptoms can be painful, annoying, and uncomfortable, but they are rarely cause for serious concern. Serious health conditions are more likely to arise after menopause has occurred, in what is called post-menopause.
The following conditions often occur during post-menopause. They are triggered both by hormonal changes and the natural processes of ageing.
- Heart Disease
Women are at an increased risk of heart disease in the post-menopausal phase of life. As oestrogen levels decrease, the risks of heart palpitations (irregular heartbeat) increases. To reduce your risk, it is more important than ever to eat a heart-healthy diet and get plenty of exercise.
Post-menopausal women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. As oestrogen levels decrease, so too do osteoblasts, the cells that produce and mend bones. Without enough osteoblasts, osteoclasts (cells that absorb bones) can weaken bone health. As a result, bone density decreases and fractures are more common, particularly in the wrists, hips, and spine. To reduce your chances of osteoporosis, make sure you exercise regularly and consume plenty of calcium and vitamin D.
- Urinary Problems
Urinary incontinence becomes more common as you age, especially after the menopause. As your oestrogen declines, the tissues in your vagina and urethra become thinner and weaker, which can result in urine leakage, especially when you laugh or sneeze ( ). You may find that can help with stress incontinence.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Your doctor may be able to diagnose the menopause when you begin to experience some of its signs and symptoms, such as hot flushes, mood swings, and irregular periods.
They may also choose to run some blood tests to measure:
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) – these levels decrease during the menopause
- Oestrogen (estradiol) – these levels decrease during the menopause
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) – symptoms of an underactive thyroid can mimic the menopause
What Are the Early Signs of Menopause?
As you approach the menopause and enter a phase called ‘perimenopause,’ you may start to experience the following symptoms, these are symptoms which are often experienced during both perimenopause and menopause.
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Weight gain, particularly around your midsection
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
You may notice some of these symptoms and not others – every woman is unique and experiences the menopause individually. Some months may be completely different from others – speak to your GP if you have any concerns.
When Does Menopause Start?
Most women experience the symptoms of pre-menopause and menopause when they are between the ages of 45 and 55. The average age of the menopause for women in the UK is 51.
What Are the 34 Symptoms of Menopause?
These are the 34 most common symptoms of menopause. You may experience all of them or none at all, but most women report at least a few of these issues.
- Hot flushes – This is the most common menopause symptoms, affecting nearly 75% of women. You may feel extremely hot and sweaty, seemingly out of nowhere.
- Night sweats – A feeling of extreme heat in the middle of the night, disrupting your sleep and causing restlessness.
- Irregular period – Your periods will become erratic and unpredictable, and you may experience PMS symptoms with no bleeding.
- Mood swings – You may experience rapid mood swings, from extreme frustration and irritation to sadness and hopelessness and then back.
- Vaginal dryness – Oestrogen is responsible for vaginal lubrication, so as your oestrogen levels decrease, you may experience vaginal dryness.
- Decreased libido – Female libido is controlled by oestrogen – when your oestrogen levels drop, so too does your sexual desire.
- Headaches – If you commonly experienced headaches during menstruation, you are likely to experience them during menopause.
- Breast tenderness – As your hormones fluctuate, it’s common to experience tender or sore breasts.
- Burning mouth – Oestrogen depletion can cause decreased saliva production, resulting in ‘burning mouth syndrome’ – a hot and/or tingling sensation.
- Joint pain – Joint pain can be a symptom of arthritis, which becomes more common post-menopause.
- Digestive issues – Hormonal changes can cause indigestion, bloating, cramps, constipation, cramps, and diarrhoea.
- Electric ‘zaps’ – It’s common to feel tingly electric ‘zaps’ or shocks during menopause.
- Tense muscles – The anxiety and stress of menopause can cause tense muscles in your neck, shoulders, and back.
- Gum problems – Between 10 – 40% of women experience gum problems and/or a metallic taste in their mouth.
- Tingling hands and feet – A rare symptom of menopause, some women experience tingling hands and feet.
- Itchy skin – As your oestrogen levels decrease, so too do your collagen levels. As a result, your skin may feel droopy, itchy, and sore. Use a rich moisturiser to help boost your skin’s health.
- Fatigue – It’s normal to feel extremely tired during menopause.
- Anxiety – More than one in three menopausal women experience increased anxiety as a symptom of menopause.
- Sleep disruptions – As your hormone levels fluctuate and you experience hot flushes and night sweats, sleep disruptions occur, and you feel less rested.
- Hair loss – Menopause can accelerate hair loss, leaving your hair looking patchy and thin.
- Memory lapses – As you go through menopause, you may notice lapses in your memory and difficulty recalling information. Thankfully, this is usually a temporary symptom.
- Trouble concentrating – Oestrogen fuels your brain’s drive to burn glucose for energy, and so with less oestrogen, you may notice that you have less focus.
- Weight gain – Most women gain weight around their midsection as they go through the menopause.
- Dizzy spells – As oestrogen levels drop, it’s common to experience vertigo and dizziness.
- Bloating – Bloating, due to oestrogen fluctuation, is one of the first symptoms of menopause that most women notice.
- Stress incontinence – As your vaginal and urethral tissue thins and weakens, you may leak or dribble urine when you sneeze, cough, or laugh.
- Brittle nails – Your nails may feel weak and dry, causing them to become brittle and break.
- Allergies – Hormonal fluctuations can impact your immune system, leading to allergies, even if you have never experienced allergic reactions in the past.
- Irregular heartbeat – Lower oestrogen levels can overstimulate your nervous and circulatory system, and you may notice an irregular heartbeat. See your GP as soon as possible.
- Body odour – Do not be surprised if you notice an increase in sweat, and if it smells more pungent.
- Irritability – Along with mood swings and anxiety, it’s common to feel more irritable and have a ‘short fuse.’
- Depression – In addition to episodes of sadness, you may experience depressive episodes. Be sure to speak to your GP if this occurs.
- Panic attacks – Even if you have never had a panic attack in the past, menopausal women are susceptible to panic attacks.
- Osteoporosis – Decreased oestrogen can also lead to a decrease in bone density, putting you at risk for osteoporosis.
You enter post-menopause 12 months after your last period. Some of the most common symptoms of post-menopause include:
- Osteoporosis – Bone density decreases after the menopause, which can make you more likely to experience fractures in your hips, spine, and wrists.
- Cardiovascular disease – Post-menopausal women are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease due to hormonal changes and an increase in ‘bad’ cholesterol. Your chances of a heart attack increase in the ten years after your last period.
- Hot flushes – You may continue to suffer from hot flushes for a year or two after your final period.
- Mental health changes – You may notice increased anxiety and depression for more than a year after your last period – be sure to keep your GP updated about any changes in your mental health.
- Stress incontinence –You can manage stress incontinence (dribbling or leakage of urine when laughing, coughing, or sneezing) with incontinence pads for women.
When Should You See a GP?
If your menopausal symptoms are causing you distress or discomfort, book an appointment with your GP. You should also speak with your GP if you have any of the symptoms of the menopause before the age of 45.
To prepare for your appointment, compile a list of your symptoms and/or concerns. Bring any prescription medications with you, and be prepared to have your bloods drawn.
How Long Does Menopause Last?
In most cases, the symptoms of pre-menopause (perimenopause) last approximately four years. As you enter into menopause and post-menopause (one year past your final period), the worst of the symptoms will usually ease.
Is There a Blood Test for Menopause?
While no blood test can definitively diagnose the menopause, your GP may request the following:
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) – FSH levels increase during the menopause.
- Oestrogen (Oestradiol) – Your oestrogen levels decrease during the menopause.
The results of these tests, in conjunction with your symptoms, can help your GP determine if you are experiencing menopausal symptoms. They may also want to test for thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), as the symptoms of an underactive thyroid can mimic the menopause, and this may need to be ruled out.
Treatments for Menopause
Other than herbal remedies and dietary modifications, the most common treatment for menopause is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT replaces your depleted oestrogen levels with synthetic oestrogen and/or progestogen. When administered correctly, it can ease the most uncomfortable and troubling symptoms of the menopause.
There are two common types of HRT:
- Combined HRT (oestrogen and progestogen) – If you have your womb, Combined HRT is the best option, as oestrogen on its own can increase the risk of womb cancer.
- Oestrogen-only HRT – This option is only suitable for women who have had a hysterectomy.
HRT comes in tablets, skin patches, or as a gel that you rub on the skin.
It is important to note that HRT has its own associated side effects, such as vaginal bleeding, headaches, and sore breasts. Some women experience an increased risk of breast cancer and blood clots, particularly if they have had breast cancer in the past. Speak to your GP to find out if you are a good candidate for HRT.
Supplements for Menopause
There are plenty of excellent supplements on the market that can help you replenish vital vitamins and minerals. All post-menopausal women should be taking a calcium supplement in addition to those listed below.
Some of the most popular menopause supplements include:
- Menopace Plus – An affordable option loaded with botanicals. Menopace includes a micronutrient tablet and a botanical booster designed to regulate hormones and improve bone health.
- Botanical Menopause Complex – Wild Nutrition’s Botanical Menopause Complex combines vitamins, magnesium, and Ayurvedic herbs, such as ashwagandha, to help you with mental clarity and fatigue.
- Protea Wellness Meno Sense – A 100% vegan supplement packed with vitamins, minerals, and oils that will improve your hair, skin, and nails, as well as promoting bone health.
- Vitabiotics Wellwoman Plus Omega 369 – This widely-available supplement pairs the Original Wellwoman tablet with an Omega supplement. It contains folic acid, selenium, B12, B6, and iron, giving you increased energy and mental clarity.
What Is the Outlook?
There is no reason that the menopause has to slow you down or cramp your style. With the right supplements, health support, and hormone replacement, you can continue to live a rich and active life for many years to come.
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