Signs of menopause? Dr Bella Smith, expert from The Well HQ reveals 7 things every woman needs to know about the menopause
The menopause is an inevitable lifestage for all women.
Natural menopause occurs when the ovaries stop functioning of their own accord and periods stop. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51 according to the NHS.
A medical or surgical menopause is when a woman is given medication to shut down her ovaries or she has them surgically removed. This is often due to the need for treatment or risk management following a cancer diagnosis and this can be at any age.
the menopause is going to happen to every single woman – that’s half the population
Women’s health still has a stigma, embarrassment and shame attached to it and women tend to suffer in silence.
But the menopause is going to happen to every single woman – that’s half the population. So, the more we talk about it, the more we will understand it and the less scary it will be.
The menopause can often be subtle and can sneak up on women so symptoms can be normalized or even ignored.
However, if we can prepare for it and know what our options are in terms of management then we can make informed decisions on how to manage our symptoms.
#1 Be prepared for the menopause to impact important parts of your life
Women often are the lynchpin of families where they have busy jobs, are looking after their children, sorting out school and university admin, running households and caring for elderly parents.
The menopause varies from individual to individual, as every woman is different. Some women sail through the menopause with hardly any symptoms, but for others it may be severe and the impact on every day life huge.
The menopause can affect a woman’s mental, physical, emotional, and sexual health.
the menopause can also affect a woman’s ability to work
It can affect her family life, her relationship with her partner and her children and it can contribute to people getting divorced.
Plus, the menopause can also affect a woman’s ability to work, having to take time off due to symptoms of a condition that is going to happen to every single one of us.
In fact, 20 per cent of women take time off work due to menopausal symptoms and ten per cent of women retire early.
#2 There are many different symptoms of menopause
Raising awareness and talking about it is the best thing we can do to help support all women out there.
Education for health professionals and in the workplace is also important and the menopause is now on the curriculum in schools.
Plus, read up on the symptoms, so that you don’t get any nasty surprises. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellece (NICE) guidance splits the symptoms into five groups:
- Vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats. These are the most common symptoms with 80% of women experiencing these.
- Musculoskeletal symptoms such as joint and muscle pain, muscle tension.
- Psychological symptoms such as low mood anxiety mood swings irritability and panic.
- Altered sexual functions so low sexual desire and low libido.
- Urogenital symptoms such as vaginal joint dryness and urinary incontinence.
But there are many other symptoms reported, such as tiredness, poor sleep, hair loss, memory problems, dizziness, weight gain, allergy, dry nails, palpitations, breast tenderness, migraines and dental problems.
Poor sleep is a very common symptom for women and this can have a detrimental effect of all aspects of their physical, mental, sexual and emotional health.
#3 Hormone Replacement Therapy is an effective treatment
The NICE guidance states that women over the age of 45 with peri-menopausal symptoms should be offered hormone replacement therapy as a first line treatment.
So if you go to your GP, and you have classic menopausal symptoms are you’re the right age, they should be discussing hormone replacement therapy with you.
Hormone replacement consists of oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and topical vaginal oestrogen. If you can’t or choose not to have HRT there are non hormonal options available that can help some of the vasomotor symptoms such as antidepressants or anti epilepsy medications.
#4 A healthy lifestyle will help to reduce symptoms
How to best navigate the menopausal years is a very personal choice and there is not an off the shelf solution or one thing that you can do to help.
Stress, exercise, nutrition and sleep are the non-negotiables
The menopause needs to be approached holistically and individually, and there are so many little changes that can be made to your lifestyle which can have a huge impact on your symptoms and also your long term health.
Stress, exercise, nutrition and sleep are the non-negotiables, what we like to call the cornerstones of health.
Without all of these cornerstone being good enough then it doesn’t matter how much HRT you take, or how much meditation you do, it’s going to be hard to stay fit and well for the long term.
Now this doesn’t mean that we all have to be perfect at all of the cornerstones, we just have to be good enough most of the time.
It’s easy not to be drinking enough, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water or non caffeinated, non sugary drinks.
Cut down on alcohol
Many women find that they become more sensitive to alcohol as they get older and especially during the perimenopause and alcohol can really exacerbate symptoms.
By cutting down the alcohol or abstaining altogether many women find they can tolerate their symptoms much better.
Regularly eat good carbs
We need carbohydrate throughout the day to stabilise our blood sugar, and the complex carbs are great as they also provide us with other vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Avoid processed foods
As much as you can, eat ingredients as opposed to products as our bodies are not designed to digest food that is overly engineered.
Cut down on sugar
Sugar can be so addictive and it can be hard to avoid.
Try to switch off your sweet tooth by having nuts or seeds as a snack or if you really need something sweet have dark chocolate.
Eat a variety of fruit and veg
Challenge yourself to eat 30 types of fruit and veg a week, the more variety in texture and colour, the more nutrients your body gets.
Take a magnesium supplement
The wonder supplement for perimenopause. Take it as Magnesium Citrate but also can be found in nuts, seeds and leafy green veggies.
Eat more sources of phytoestrogens
Help to top up oestrogen levels found in flax, sesame, broccoli, fennel, chickpeas, soy beans and lentils.
#5 Exercise also helps with menopause symptoms
Exercise is one of life’s non-negotiable.
It helps us to manage many menopausal symptoms and also protects us against chronic conditions that women suffer from in later life (e.g. heart disease, osteoporosis, dementia, back pain).
Plus, exercise makes us feel good, sleep better and gives us more energy.
Every woman should be doing her pelvic floor exercises daily
Exercise can range from high intensity, low intensity, cardio, strength training, yoga – however you want to move your body is great, as long as you enjoy it, vary it and keep doing it!
Oh, and don’t forget your pelvic floor! Every woman should be doing her pelvic floor exercises daily, and the activity you do should not cause you to leak.
Your continence is your independence so keep doing this work and talk to your GP or women’s health physio sooner rather than later if you are experiencing issues.
#6 Getting enough sleep is a menopause managing essential
Sleep is the first thing we are taught how to do as babies and yet is the first thing to go out of the window when we are stressed or feel unwell. Sleep is essential time for our bodies to heal and repair.
Yet women are twice as likely to not sleep well than men and as we age sleeping issues become even more common with menopause being a particularly tricky time.
Top sleep tips:
- Aim for 7-8 hours a night – which means you probably need to be in your room for 9 hours, without a screen.
- Don’t fall asleep on the sofa, get ready for bed before you are tired.
- 18 degrees is the optimum temperature for sleep.
- Light cotton clothing (or nothing) – will help with night sweats.
- No caffeine after 12pm.
- No alcohol before bed.
- Stick with a routine – whatever that may be, start signalling to your brain that it’s time to get ready for bed and go to sleep.
#7 Stress can make menopause symptoms worse
This is a full on life stage – with many women working, caring for others and managing menopausal symptoms so stress levels are understandably higher for many women and it doesn’t help.
Stress can exacerbate menopausal symptoms, and menopausal symptoms can increase our stress, so for many women they find themselves in a viscous cycle.
Carve out time in your day for self care and stick to boundaries to help you put yourself at the top of your own ‘to-do list’. Find ways, such as exercise, yoga, breathing exercises, to help you de-stress every day.
Where to get help?
If you are experiencing menopause symptoms then see your GP or Nurse specialist, ideally who have expertise in Women’s health.
For Pelvic floor issues such as urinary incontinence or mild vaginal prolapse then see a Women’s Health Physiostherapist or a gynaecologist if symptoms are more severe.
If your surgery does not have a GP with an interest in womens health then have a look at the British Medical Society list of recommended NHS and Private menopause clinics where you can be referred to.
Many women find great support from talking to others who have been through similar experience and so setting up local menopause support groups online or in your local area may be beneficial.
The Well HQ, provides health, well-being and performance support for women based on the science of the female body.