The menopause is the end of menstruation when the ovaries stop producing an egg every four weeks. It usually takes place around the age of 50 but can happen as early as 30 in some women, this is known as premature menopause and can be managed by your GP if symptoms are troubling you. Menopause that occurs before the age of 45 is known as early menopause.
The menopause happens when the female sex hormone oestrogen decreases, causing the ovaries to stop producing an egg each month. The monthly period stops because low hormone levels mean the lining of the womb is no longer stimulated, so a woman is unlikely to get pregnant after this point.
For some women, the menopause can occur before the age of 40. This is known as premature ovarian failure and has varying levels of severity. Some women suffering from this condition may still experience ovarian function from time to time, have the occasional period and may still be able to conceive.
Premature ovarian failure can occur after a hysterectomy, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. It could also be caused by some infections like tuberculosis, mumps, malaira or chickenpox, or certain medical conditions such as Autoimmune disease, Turner’s syndrome, Down’s syndrome, enzyme deficiencies or an underactive thyroid gland.
The menopause has a variety of symptoms. These can be worse if the menopause comes on suddenly and usually last anywhere between two and five years before dissapearing. Some, such as vaginal dryness, can worsen with age. They affect about 70 per cent of women and many people notice them when they are pre-menopause and still having periods as the hormone production gradually goes into decline.
Possible menopausal symptoms can include:
A change in the pattern of your periods, where the flow and frequency will vary from your norm
Hot flushes and night sweats
Sudden mood changes (in particular depression, anxiety or fatigue)
Loss of libido
Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
As going through the menopause is a natural part of ageing, many women don’t need treatment and find they can manage the menopause effectively using home remedies. However for those whose symptoms are more severe, there are a range of different treatment options available. These include:
This works by replenishing the body’s levels of oestrogen, which naturally decrease with the approach and onset of the menopause. It is effective in treating a range of symptoms including hot flushes and night sweats and vaginal pain and dryness, as well as urinary tract infections such as cyctitis.
Tibolone is a man made hormone which has the same effect on the body as hormone replacement therapy. As well as treating hot flushes, vaginal dryness and urine infections, it can also be effective in improving sex drive. It may be recommended to post-menopausal women who want to stop their periods all together.
Vaginal lubricants are a safe and effective way of combating symptoms such as vaginal dryness or discomfort during sex, and can be prescribed by your GP.
If you reach the menopause without suffering from severe symptoms, you may be able to ease your symptoms at home by making small changes to your lifestlye rather than by taking medication. Helpful changes can include:
As oestrogen levels fall, the amount of calcium in your bones decreases making them more likely to fall into bad health. You can combat this and ensure you keep your bones healthy by eating a balanced diet of all the food groups. Fruit and vegetables, as well as a small portion of dairy such as yoghurt or low-fat milk, will all help ease menopausal symptoms. It is recommended that your intake of calcium be between 400mg and 700mg for optimal bone health during the menopause.
As your muscle mass decreases during the menopause your body may start to need less calories, meaning you might start to put on weight if you fail to make small changes to your diet and exercise routine. Regular exercise ensures your body stays fit and healthy during and after the menopause. Aerobic exercises such as walking, running, cycling and swimming may be particulary useful for maintaining muscle mass and bone strength.
Although not necessarily severe enough to warrant medical intervention, some menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats can be extremely uncomfortable to live with, and can cause mood changes and sleep problems in some women.
To ease hot flushes and sweats, it can often help to wear light cotton clothing and keep your house cool at night. Taking regular exercise, reducing your stress levels and avoiding potential triggers (such as spicy food and caffeine) can also help.
Avoiding exercise late in the day and ensuring you go to sleep at the same time every night can help ease issues with sleep and insomnia, and getting plently of rest can also help to improve mood swings, as well as taking time out for relaxing activites such as yoga and tai chi.