Everything Everyone Needs To Know About The Menopause by Alison Runham

Since menopause affects roughly half the population, it’s important for men to understand it as well as women, because it will affect their families, friends and colleagues.

What is the menopause?

Menopause occurs when a woman’s periods have stopped for a year, caused by reduced oestrogen and cessation of egg release. In the UK, most women reach menopause between 45 and 55. However, perimenopause – the pre-menopause phase when oestrogen levels decline – can last for months or years, as can symptoms (which may persist after periods stop). Most women have some symptoms, but for a minority, they’re severe and long-lasting.

Symptoms and side-effects

Hot flashes/flushes: Sudden sweating, flushing or feeling uncomfortably hot, usually just briefly and typically felt in the face, neck and chest. Some women suffer more at night, ‘night sweats’.

Breast tenderness and changes: Hormonal changes to breast ducts and fluid levels can cause tenderness, sensitivity, lumpiness, aching and throbbing. Breasts may also sag or become less full. Women should always see a doctor urgently if there is nipple discharge, a hard lump which can’t be moved, change in breast shape, dimpling on the breast surface, a rash around the nipple or sinking back of the nipple.

Vaginal dryness, which can cause itching and discomfort.

Decreased libido and pleasure in sex

Urine leakage and urinary urgency

Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Memory and concentration issues, which can damage women’s confidence.

Irregular or unusually light or heavy periods, including ‘flooding’ (excessive, sudden blood loss; women should see their doctor if this continues).

Dry, itchy or ‘crawling’ skin

Racing heartbeat or palpitations (heartbeats that suddenly feel forceful).

Anxiety, depression or mood swings

Fatigue

Insomnia

Exacerbated premenstrual syndrome

Increased unwanted hair growth

Joint stiffness and pain

Reduced muscle mass

Dry mouth and eyes

Hair thinning

Headaches

Increased osteoporosis, stroke and heart disease risk

Reducing symptoms and side-effects

Lifestyle changes: regular exercise, stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake, eating healthily and maintaining a healthy weight will help. Caffeine, smoking and alcohol can exacerbate hot flushes. Exercise helps prevent loss of muscle mass.

Keeping the bedroom cool can help reduce insomnia and night sweats.

Get enough calcium and Vitamin D: sunlight is essential for producing Vitamin D (necessary for healthy bones). A Vitamin D and calcium supplement may be helpful.

Wearing layers and natural fibres can help women stay cool and comfortable.

CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) can reduce anxiety and depression, and increase self-esteem.

Reducing stress: stress can aggravate symptoms. Women experiencing a difficult menopause may need to lessen their workload and responsibilities.

Low dose contraceptive pills can reduce menopause symptoms and risks, regulate and lighten periods, and reduce ovarian and uterine cancer risk.

HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) replaces dwindling hormones and reduces menopause symptoms and risk.

Testosterone supplements can restore libido.

Vaginal oestrogen treatments and non-hormonal vaginal lubricants can relieve vaginal dryness and discomfort.

Lubricating eye drops and oral sprays can relieve a dry mouth and dry eyes.

While many natural remedies claim to relieve menopause symptoms, there’s not always reliable evidence on their safety or efficacy, and they can interfere with other medications. Women should check with their doctor before taking them.

www.alison.runham.co.uk