Night sweats, hot flushes, mood swings – the menopause can be a confusing and tricky time for women. Loose Women‘s Andrea McLean whose new book is Confessions of a Menopausal Woman has advice
Popular daytime television presenter Andrea McLean has a lot to say about the menopause. Why? ‘The main reason for my passion of speaking about menopause is because nobody wants to talk about it,’ explains McLean, who presents ITV’s Loose Women.
The menopause is a huge and inevitable part of every woman’s life and yet it’s still not given the attention it rightfully deserves.
‘I understand why no one wants to be associated with something society has decided makes you officially old, knackered, past it, useless and pretty much a laughing stock,’ says McLean. ‘But why does society still use the menopause as a barometer to measure a woman’s usefulness and status in society?’
The Loose Women host revealed on the show in September 2016 that she would be undergoing a hysterectomy that meant she would be away from the show for a number of weeks.
A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus. It may also involve removal of the cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes and other surrounding structures. When the ovaries are removed this can send women into an early menopause. Which was the case for Andrea McLean, she has openly spoken about her surgery and has experienced menopausal symptoms live on air during Loose Women.
Now a couple of years later aged 49, McLean explains in her new book, Confessions of a Menopausal Woman, that thousands of women had sent her messages explaining that they too were about to have surgery, were recovering from surgery, or just desperate for some help and support on entering the menopause.
It was clear to McLean that a huge proportion of the female population in the UK were living in fear and confusion and not knowing what to do about their menopausal symptoms and how to deal with them.
What is the Menopause?
Menstrual irregularity, hot flushes, night sweats, mood changes these are common symptoms of the dreaded menopause and the perimenopause, which is the decade that leads up to the menopause.
As if women don’t already have enough to deal with? The menopause sadly cannot be avoided and is a natural part of ageing for us women, usually occurring between the ages of 45 and 55. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51 according to the NHS.
All women are born with a specific number of eggs, which depletes over time as we ovulate, usually every month. It is when we have lost most of our eggs and are left with around 1,000 that women will start to feel menopausal. The menopause can therefore be described as our ovaries failing to release eggs.
In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51
This failure in releasing an egg causes our oestrogen (a sex hormone produced by women) levels to drop. This drop in oestrogen tells our brain to send more signals to our ovaries to try and get them to release an egg. To do this the brain also produces a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which is what causes night sweats and those dreaded hot flushes.
Oestrogen doesn’t just affect our menstrual cycles and the release of our eggs though, it can also affect things like how our skin and hair looks.
But this is all very scientific and is as useful as reading a school biology textbook says McLean. ‘The medical definition gives you the theory but what we really want to know is what the reality is like’.
What is it we really want to know about the menopause? The symptoms? Or if it will make you grumpy all the time? Andrea McLean is here to help clear things up, here are five things all women need to know about the menopause.
There are actually 34 symptoms of the menopause
‘Like anything, each one of us will experience the build-up to the menopause in our own unique way, and there are a whole host of symptoms and experiences that come under the umbrella term of menopause,’ says McLean.
What are the symptoms? Well, the obvious ones are hot flushes, sleepless nights, erratic periods, brain fog, mood change, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, itchy skin, migraine, aching joints.
But, in fact, there are apparently 34 signs of being menopausal – either peri- (which is the build-up) or the full blown menopause. They are:
- Allergies (if you have any they will be stronger than usual)
- Anxiety and stress
- Bladder incontinence
- Bleeding gums
- Breast tenderness
- Bitter nails
- Body odour changes
- Burning toungue or dry mouth
- Difficulty concentrating
- Electirc shocks (tingling sensation under skin)
- Gastrointestinal problems (gas, cramping, nausea)
- Hot flushes
- Hair changes (facial hair increase, thinning hair)
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Irregular, pounding heartbeat
- Itchy skin
- Joint pain
- Loss of libido
- Memory lapses
- Mood swings
- Muscle tension
- Night sweats
- Osteoporosis (weakening of the bones)
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Panic attacks
- Sleep disorders
- Tingling extremeties
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain
‘And you may have every single one of them or just a couple of them, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not menopausal,’ says McLean. ‘It just means your experience is different to the next woman, not less’.
Even if you only experience a handful of them you may be going through the menopause, and just because you may not be experiencing the symptoms that are typical for the menopause it doesn’t mean that your body hasn’t started to change, explains McLean.
‘Make a note of your symptoms and head over to your doctor so that you can begin the process of doing something about it and feeling better’.
It’s not just an old lady thing
‘The menopause is not just an old lady thing, it is an every lady thing,’ says McLean. ‘Every female on the entire plant is going to experience menopausal symptoms at some point in their life’.
And this can even be between the ages of (in some cases) their late 30’s right the way through to the age of 51 when you are said to be officially in the menopause, ‘and if your 30’s and 40’s is old then God help us,’ exclaims McLean.
In fact, your late 30’s and your 40’s exactly the age when you will start to feel a little bit different. Or in some cases, a lot different explains McLean.
your late 30’s and your 40’s exactly the age when you will start to feel a little bit different
‘What my advice to you would be is don’t be fobbed off by anyone that says you are too young to be experiencing symptoms of the menopause. Know yourself, know your body and keep a diary of your symptoms so that you are aware of how you’re feeling.
‘That way if you think or suspect that you are going through the menopause, you have something concrete to offer when speaking with doctor’.
The change can be a change for good
‘Just because you are going through the change doesn’t mean that, that change can’t be for the good,’ says McLean. The menopause doesn’t mean it’s the end of your life either.
You are half way through your life, not halfway done, so this can be a time to sit back and ask yourself honestly if you are doing all you can to feel the best you can.
‘If you are experiencing menopausal symptoms now is the time to ask yourself whether everything you are doing in your life is actually making you feel better or worse’.
Are you staying up too late watching Netflix or scrolling through Facebook? Yes? Put it down and go to bed. Are you eating grabbed food on the run because you can’t be bothered or are too tired running round after everyone else and don’t know what to cook for yourself? Stop.
The menopause doesn’t mean it’s the end of your life
Cooking meals that are quick and easy for your kids and your husband may seem like a good idea, but is it actually doing you any good?
‘Oh and spicy food before bed probably isn’t a good idea – it will make your night sweats worse,’ warns McLean. ‘Also, having a lot of sugar in your diet, I know it’s the buzzword of the moment but it really does not help your menopausal symptoms’.
‘Have a think about dietary changes that you can make and think about some things that you can cut out as well,’ suggests McLean. If you put diesel into a petrol car it will break down, and your body is no different, so don’t fill it with junk then wonder why it doesn’t work properly.
Are you taking time out for you? Take time to stop, even if it’s a walk round the block with no one asking you for something, it all helps.
Talk to your nearest and dearest
‘Knowing yourself, your mental self and your physical self and your general well being is key to any health issue. You are the only one who knows what your body and your mind is experiencing. So if you feel that you are changing in any sort of way, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on yourself,,’ says McLean.
But it’s all well and good keeping an eye on yourself, but you may want to keep an eye on how your loved ones are reacting around you as well.
‘Sometimes you might think that you are expertly hiding your anger issues, your depression, your anxiety and just battling through it. But actually that’s the time you actually need to sit down with loved ones, friends or family and ask them whether they are noticing any changes in your behavior, and actually they can know you better than you know yourself.
By asking your nearest and dearest if they think your behaviour has changed, you might not like what you hear. So take a deep breath, brace yourself for the answer.
‘Just bear in mind that nay feedback that you get is a positive step because that’s when you can get the help and guidance you need’.
The menopause is only part of your life
‘Many people get concerned with HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and that’s because HRT isn’t necessarily for everyone,’ McLean asserts.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a treatment used to relieve symptoms of the menopause. It replaces hormones that are at a lower level as you approach the menopause.
Your GP can explain the different types of HRT available and help you choose one that’s suitable for you. ‘This is a conversation that you will need to have as an individual with your own GP to make sure that it is safe for you to use and the right choice for you’.
menopause itself is a change and it will affect you, but don’t let it DEFINE you
‘HRT has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 15 years and if used properly can be life changing for any woman who is going through the menopause.
‘But just remember going through the menopause itself is a change and it will affect you, but don’t let it DEFINE you.
‘Look around you: there are so many incredible women of a certain age doing fabulously well by completely being themselves, accepting who they are and not wishing they were younger, prettier, faster or fresher – we are amazing.
‘If you’ve hit a pothole on your journey, recognize it for what it is and drive on. Things may not be in perfect working order, but it’s usually possible to navigate your way down the road none the less.’
‘Think of your life as a pie chart, it is only a tiny slice. HRT is also only a slice of that. There are many other things that you can do to make yourself feel better at this incredible time in your life because let’s face it, you may be middle aged but, being in the middle means that you have half a lifetime of incredible experience.
‘You are only half way through your life, you are not half way done. So, whatever you do, even if you are going through the menopause, don’t let it define you. It’s just a little slice of the pie chart and who doesn’t love pie?’
Confessions of a Menopausal Woman by Andrea McLean is available to buy now.
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