10 things you need to know about menopause, according to a gynaecologist
Menopause is a natural part of the ageing process, something that happens to everyone who menstruates. Most of us will know someone experiencing symptoms of the menopause, but despite this, for many, menopause still means mystery.
To help people better understand what it is and how it affects us, intimate healthcare brand INTIMINA UK asked resident Gynaecologist Dr Shree Datta to answer the top 10 of the most common in-clinic questions about the menopause, exclusively for HER.
So for anyone struggling to get an appointment with a GP or Gynaecologist during lockdown, or even those with a keen interest in knowing more about their body, then check out Dr Shree’s menopause fact file below.
What is menopause?
Menopause is a stage of life which every woman experiences. It’s the time when you stop having periods and usually occurs between the age of 45 to 55. This occurs as your hormone levels drop and means that you no longer release eggs to fall pregnant naturally. The average age for women to experience menopause in the UK is 51 years.
Why does it happen?
Women go through menopause because their hormone levels change, specifically there is a fall in oestrogen and progesterone level as you age and your ovaries “retire”. This affects periods and the ability to conceive naturally as well as resulting in the symptoms above. You may notice a change in your periods – for example, their frequency or regularity – in the time leading up to the menopause, but sometimes they may stop suddenly. In some women, menopause may be induced by treatment such as chemotherapy.
What are the symptoms?
Most women experience at least one symptom around the time of menopause. Symptoms really vary from woman to woman, as does how severe they are and how long they last. Common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood changes (such as feeling anxious or depressed), fatigue, difficulty sleeping, headaches, a drop in libido and joint or muscle pain. You may also notice a change in your periods – for example, their frequency or regularity – in the time leading upto the menopause.
How long does it last?
Medically, menopause is defined as 12 months’ since your last period. However, the symptoms of menopause can continue, although they may become much more manageable. You may notice a transition period where you start to experience symptoms of menopause before your periods stop completely and this may last several years.
Is there a way to test whether I am going through the menopause?
Yes, you may be referred by your doctor for blood tests. These will look at your hormone levels such as FSH and LH, along with your oestrogen count.
What causes hot flushes?
Hot flushes are one of the most commonly experienced symptoms for women going through menopause. They are the sudden feeling of heat, sweating, palpitations and blushing that spreads from the face through the body and lasts for several minutes. Some people only experience a few hot flushes, where others experience many a day and you may experience blushing and sweating with them. They are caused by hormone changes in the body, but may be triggered by stress, alcohol or coffee, spicy food and smoking.
How can you treat the menopause?
In the first instance we will go through a range of measures, including reviewing your diet and lifestyle prior to considering prescribing HRT. Treatment will depend on your symptoms – for example, if you experience vaginal dryness, we will consider whether an oestrogen-based cream may help your symptoms. If you experience hot flushes, we’ll review your diet and caffeine and alcohol intake and consider oestrogen and progesterone therapy. Thin cotton clothing may also help. HRT comes in various different forms such as skin patches, gels and implants and we will discuss what best suits you. We will also check your blood pressure before prescribing medication and consider your family history and medical risk factors.
Are there risks to taking HRT?
HRT use in the long-term can increase your risk of stroke, blood clots and breast cancer, but this depends on your age, family history and medical history. Your Gynaecologist will review these before prescribing HRT and you will be reviewed regularly. Usually, women can take HRT for up to five years safely. We will always start on the lowest effective dose of medication and would advise stopping HRT (or reducing the dose) once symptoms are manageable.
What other treatments are there?
Acupuncture or black cohosh may help reduce hot flushes and night sweats, but you may experience side effects such as stomach upsets or rashes when taking black cohosh.
You might also benefit from strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder, bowel and affect sexual function, by regularly doing kegel exercises. Intimina has even developed the KegelSmart™ – a revolutionary new way to do your Kegels. It’s a personal pelvic floor trainer which sets a routine that is simple to follow, safe to use, and completely tailored to your individual needs.
Does menopause affect my health in the long term?
Once you have gone through the menopause you are more at risk of osteoporosis as bone loss is affected by oestrogen levels. Vaginal dryness may also lead to pain during sex, so lubricants may also be helpful.
When can I stop contraception?
It’s still possible to fall pregnant as you approach the menopause, so make sure you continue contraception until you have fully gone through the menopause – so until you have stopped having periods for 12 months.
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