On 18 October, World Menopause Day is observed around the globe to raise awareness of the impact menopause can have on women’s everyday lives.
Here is everything you need to know about the condition:
What is the menopause and what causes it?
The menopause is a natural process that occurs when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to conceive naturally.
“During a woman’s fertile years, her ability to produce an egg each month is associated with the release of three reproductive hormones (oestradiol, oestrone and oestriol), that are referred to collectively as oestrogen,” Women’s Health Concern explains.
“As women get older, their store of eggs in the ovary decreases and their ability to conceive diminishes. At this time, less oestrogen is produced, causing the body to behave differently.”
The NHS adds that there is “no clear cause” why some women experience premature menopause.
Menopause can also occur following various medical treatments, including an oophorectomy (the surgical removal of one or both of the ovaries), chemotherapy, radiotherapy and breast cancer treatments.
At what age do women experience the menopause?
The menopause usually occurs among women aged between 45 and 55, with the average age for menopause in the UK being 51.
If a woman under the age of 40 experiences the menopause, this is known as premature menopause, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) states.
Premature menopause occurs among approximately one in every 100 women.
What are the symptoms?
While symptoms of the menopause may be exhibited over the course of several months, a woman is said to have experienced the menopause when she has not had a period for 12 months, the RCOG outlines.
While not all women who go through the menopause will experience the same symptoms, common symptoms of the process include:
- Hot flushes
- Vaginal dryness
- Reduced sex drive
- Low mood
- Night sweats
- Discomfort during sex
- Difficulty concentrating
- Problems with memory
Prior to experiencing the menopause, women may experience an earlier stage called perimenopause, the RCOG states.
Those going through the perimenopause may experience similar symptoms to those listed above for up to four or five years.
The NHS outlines that menopausal symptoms can last for around four years after a woman has her last period, although some experience symptoms for even longer.
How can symptoms be relieved?
If a woman who is experiencing the menopause is suffering from severe symptoms, then a GP may recommend they undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
HRT can replace oestrogen in the form of tablets, skin patches, gels and implants, which may help to relieve symptoms.
In September 2019, it was reported that some women impacted by the shortage of HRT medication were suffering from profound mental health issues.
In May this year, it was reported that women going through the menopause could be left without HRT medication due to high demand during the coronavirus pandemic.
Those going through the menopause may also receive treatment in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy.
They may use vaginal oestrogen creams, lubricants or moisturisers if they are experiencing vaginal dryness.
GPs may also recommend patients follow a healthy lifestyle to relieve menopausal symptoms, such as by eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly, if they do not already.
If a woman’s menopausal symptoms do not improve, then their GP may refer them to a menopausal specialist for further guidance.
For more information about the menopause and organisations you can contact for information and support, visit the RCOG website here.