If you’ve been experiencing symptoms such as hot flushes and HTR, you may be going through menopause. The menopause is a completely natural process that every women experiences however we know that it can often be daunting. If you’re unsure about any aspect of it, read our fact file below for answers to all your pressing questions.
Menopause: what is it?
Simply put, menopause just means your last menstrual period. The average menopause age is 51, and many women start experiencing symptoms of menopause in their mid-to-late 40s. The phase surrounding it, including symptoms such as mood swings and night sweats, is called the perimenopause but today we refer to this whole stage as the menopause.
Menopause: what causes it?
Unless you suffer from early menopause, or premature ovarian failure (POF), the menopause is triggered by natural hormonal changes. Your ovaries stop releasing eggs, levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone start to drop, and your body starts to produce more of the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). It is low oestrogen levels that trigger many common menopause symptoms.
Menopause: what are common symptoms?
Not every woman will experience the same menopause symptoms, and yours may differ from day to day. Your symptoms will last about two years after your last period and most women stop experiencing menopause symptoms around the age of 55.
Short-term symptoms of menopause
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Dry skin
- Irregular periods
- Thinning hair
- Poor concentration
Intermediate symptoms of menopause
- Painful sex, often caused by a dry or thinning vagina
- Changes in libido
- Increase in urinary tract infections
Long-term symptoms of menopause
- Heart disease
Could I be suffering from something else?
You could also suffer from joint and bone pain, heart palpitations, dizzy spells, changes in taste or smell, indigestion, panic attacks, or itchy skin. Some of these occur well before the usual menopause symptoms, leading to unnecessary tests or medication for mis-diagnosed conditions. Ask your GP to test your FSH levels if you think you may be starting the menopause.
Can menopause be predicted?
If your mother had an early menopause, you are 30 to 50 per cent more likely to go through it early too. However if you smoke or drink more than your mother did at the same age, or suffer from more stress, this can trigger an earlier menopause. Likewise, if you are healthier than she was, this could mean you have a later menopause age or less severe symptoms.
Will menopause cause weight gain?
Many women complain about a thicker waist after the menopause. Some of this is due to raised testosterone levels which redistribute fat in a more masculine ‘apple’ shape, but it can also be caused by our body trying to rebalance our hormones.
Fat around the middle actually produces hormone-like substances. As your ovaries are no longer producing oestrogen, your body will want to produce it elsewhere for the protective effects it has against osteoporosis and heart disease. You therefore can naturally start to store more fat around your waist.
If you’re overweight, you will suffer more with menopause symptoms so try to keep your weight down. American researchers recently discovered losing just 10lb could reduce the number of night sweats and hot flushes.
Which is better: HRT or natural menopause remedies?
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been linked to breast cancer in the past with one study (later found to be flawed) suggesting that HRT may increase the risk of breast cancer. Nevertheless, modern methods have been found to be safe and effective. You can now receive HRT, which is mainly oestrogen, via patches, implants, creams or rings. Talk to your GP about which form of HRT may be suitable for you.
Natural remedies, herbal remedies – such as black cohosh or red clover – and lifestyle changes including exercise and losing weight can all help relieve menopause symptoms. Get more advice on women’s health in our fact-packed advice guides.
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This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies