At some time between the ages of 45 and 55, most women will enter the menopause. The menopause is a rite of passage for women, that occurs when your ovaries stop making the two key hormones oestrogen and progesterone, that have always controlled your menstrual cycle. This change happens over a few years, and women will generally start to experience an issue with their periods: they either become heavier, more or less frequent, or they just generally start going crazy.
In addition to the end of menstruation, women experience a range of other emotional and physical symptoms such as hot flushes (known as flashes in the USA), night sweats, and poor mood and irritability. Of course no two women are the same, so everyone’s experiences of the menopause will be different, and some women will have more of a challenging time than others.
Because the menopause tends to occur at the same time as other transition periods in life (such as children leaving home, the end of long-term relationships, failing health of parents, bereavement etc.), it can sometimes be difficult to discern whether symptoms are as a result of the menopause or of the other emotional upheavals. In any case, this period of time in a woman’s life can be deeply unsettling.
The long-term effects of the menopause include an increased risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Osteoporosis comes about thanks to reduced amounts of minerals in the bone and slower production or replacement of bone cells, and this the weakens after the menopause, something that occurs in one in three women, and one in twelve men.
Breast changes are also apparent after the menopause, because breasts lose their firmness, change shape, shrink in size, become less dense and also become more prone to certain abnormal lumps. It is imperative to check your breasts for changes, and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
The most common treatment for menopause has traditionally been hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This helps to protect women against osteoporosis and controls other menopausal symptoms. However, HRT does slightly increase the risk of developing certain conditions including stroke, heart disease, breast cancer, and deep vein thrombosis so taking this needs serious thought and consultation with your doctor.
The most common symptom of the menopause is the hot flush – which is characterised by a feeling of deep heat sweeping through the body, blushing, palpitations, and/or sweating. They vary in severity depending on the individual. There are a number of ways to combat these.
Medical treatments for hot flushes, besides HRT, other treatments include vitamin E supplements and some antidepressants.
Complementary therapies for hot flushes include acupuncture, substituting soy for dairy, black cohosh, red clover, pine bark supplement, folic acid, and evening primrose oil.
Take steps to keep yourself cool, especially at night. Use a fan where necessary (either electric or handheld), use a water atomiser to spray yourself with cool water, or use a cold gel pack.
Layer up. Choose natural materials that breathe, and wear layers so that you can slip a few off if you start to overheat. Similarly, in the bedroom, have layers on the bed so you can remove them as you need to. Keep the window open and have throws available just in case.
Have a supply of cold or iced drinks to sip on
Avoid hot baths and showers and opt instead for lukewarm water.
Reduce your stress levels
Relax. It is thought that many psychological symptoms are associated with hormonal changes so the menopause can leave you feeling down, anxious, irritable or tired. Yoga and tai chi are recommended to help you relax.
Lose weight. Being overweight might be a factor in the worst cases of hot flushes.
For vaginal dryness, you can purchase vaginal lubricant like K-Y Jelly or Astroglide, or a vaginal moisturizer such as Replens, over the counter of your pharmacy.
Take plenty of exercise as this will help you to sleep well. Avoid large meals before bedtime and avoid coffee and caffeine after noon. Avoid napping during the day.
Finally, practice good sleep hygiene. Getting enough sleep and keeping physically active will help improve symptoms of memory loss or forgetfulness, as well as irritability.
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