Going through the menopause can be a tough time for many people because of the physiological and emotional effects the change can bring. This can be exacerbated by the fact some simply don’t feel able to talk about how they’re feeling, owing to the stigma around the subject.
Here, experts in the field share the advice they believe you need to know about the menopause, and believe it or not, it’s not all bad news.
What is the menopause?
“The menopause is all about becoming low on oestrogen, and we become low on oestrogen because our ovaries gradually change and stop working,” explained Gynaecologist Dr Heather Currie, who is a spokesperson for the Royal College of Gynaecologists, a trustee of the British Menopause Society and Founder and MD of Menopause Matters.
“There are receptors for oestrogen throughout our body, and the level of oestrogen changing varies between women. This means in terms of the side effects, the severity and the duration varies hugely, too. Some women might have minimal symptoms which don’t have an impact on their life.
“The consequences of oestrogen deficiency are divided into early, immediate and long-term. Early ones include sweats, mood changes, joint ache and difficulty sleeping. The average duration for those is five to seven years, actually longer than most women are expecting, but for most women those effects won’t go on forever,” Dr Currie added.
To help you feel more positively about the menopause, here experts share 10 reassuring pieces of advice they want you to know…
Don't be afraid to ask for support
“Seek help, especially if your symptoms are troublesome,” Dr Currie said. “There are loads of resources online, including the British Menopause Society’s Women’s Health concern helpline and Menopause Matters. If you feel you need further help go to your GP. There are lots of things [that can help] and it doesn’t have to be prescribed medication. It can be about diet and lifestyle, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be really helpful for mood and anxiety.”
Weight gain isn't a given
“Many women believe that they will inevitably gain weight during the menopause and have no control over this, however this is not true,” said Dr Shazia Malik, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK. “Although some women may experience weight gain, it is not simply a consequence of going through the menopause. In fact, as we all age, our metabolic rate slows which means that we just need be more aware of what we eat and make sure that we get regular exercise. Hormonal changes can cause weight fluctuations, and this can initially be a factor in gaining weight during the menopause. However, as the body adjusts to the hormonal changes, weight gain can be combatted by simple lifestyle changes and will eventually level out.”
HRT can be a real help
“A big myth is that Hormone Replacement Therapy is nasty and dangerous. If we get to the point where symptoms are troublesome and having a big impact on someone’s life then HRT should be seen as an option. For most women, when used appropriately the benefits far outweigh the risk and it’s a very effective treatment,” Dr Currie said.
There are solutions to vaginal dryness
“One of the lesser spoken about effects of the menopause is vaginal dryness. It’s important for women to speak about this and not feel embarrassed. With millions of women in the UK currently going through the menopause, all women should be aware of all potential symptoms, including those that people are not as comfortable talking about. As it isn’t spoken about as much, many women will suffer in silence and might experience a lower libido, vaginal pain or itchiness without seeking treatment. I would suggest that women who experience this should visit to their GP, however, if you do not feel comfortable to do this there are many products that you can buy at your pharmacy which can really help to improve vaginal dryness. As your vagina goes through the changes that the menopause brings, it is important to maintain the natural PH level by steering clear of harsh chemicals or perfumed cleansing products as much as possible,” Dr Malik said.
There are ways to take control of hot flushes
“Think of this as human air-conditioning - it works on the same principle as a dog panting with its tongue lolling out to cool. It’s a great way to lower the temperature of the tongue, mouth, head and possibly the throat and rest of the body when you’re having a hot flush. Roll your tongue either back on itself or curling the edges round to make a straw shape and breath in slowly, taking the air over the surface of your tongue, allowing it to cool as you do. Relax the mouth and breathe out through your nose. Repeat this seven times; it might look funny but it works!” See the technique in action here.
You're not alone
“It’s important people realise they’re not alone and being able to share experiences is incredibly helpful. I feel the male partners of menopausal partners would like to help but are sometimes completely confused about what’s going on. We know that significant numbers of women have said the symptoms affect not only their work lives but their home lives, social lives and sex lives,” Dr Currie said. Basically, it’s time to get talking to the people closest to you.
Recognising your symptoms is key
"Downloading and completing a symptom questionnaire can really help to think about your symptoms and share how you are feeling to others. It can also be really useful to take this completed questionnaire to your GP so you can discuss openly about your symptoms,” said Dr Louise Newson, GP and menopause specialist.
Your pelvic floor can strengthen
“Urinary incontinence is something that women fear when approaching the menopause. However, it is a myth that women of a certain age will have a weakened bladder. While it is true that some menopausal women experience this, it can often be put down to something else such as weight gain. With pelvic floor exercises, regular general exercise and a healthy diet, women of any age can vastly improve their pelvic floor and bladder muscles. In fact, menopausal and post-menopausal women can achieve stronger pelvic floor muscles compared to how they were before the menopause if they put their mind to it,” Dr Malik said.
Make time for you
“A lack of oestrogen affects our bone and heart health, so we can see the menopause as a wake-up call, a time for women to recognise that their body is changing and use that to focus on diet and lifestyle. Ask yourself: ‘Is this a time I could take up more exercise or finally stop smoking?’ It doesn’t have to be joining a gym, it can be walking and healthy eating. That’s so important, especially at this stage,” Dr Currie said.
Information about the menopause can be found via resources including the RCOG’s website and the Health Fact vs Fiction with Anna Richardson podcast by HCA Healthcare UK, available via Apple, Google and Spotify.
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