Menopause is a sign of healthy ageing and needn't be an ordeal. Live to 100 explores the most common symptoms, how to manage them and why you shouldn't let them dictate the way you live
Even though menopause is a natural part of healthy ageing, the frustrating lack of information about it can make this normal experience feel daunting. But armed with the proper knowledge, menopause—like everything else in life—is manageable. Usually occurring between the ages of 45 and 55, menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her ovaries lose their reproductive function.
Symptoms of menopause may appear for months or years before your periods stop, and can occur for around four years. A change in the flow of periods is the first indicator of menopause, followed by changes in frequency, and eventually complete cessation.
The other common symptoms of menopause are insomnia, reduced libido, vaginal dryness, headaches, mood fluctuations, anxiety, and hot flashes—brief episodes of feeling intense heat in the face, neck and across the body.
Menopause can increase risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones) and can can cause stiffness and pain in the joints, reoccurring urinary tract infections (UTIs) and heart palpitations. But there are plenty of options to help you take control of these symptoms and prevent them from interfering with your everyday life. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is one of the top options.
See Also: What 'Change' Means During the Menopause
Hormone Replacement Therapy
HRT works by delivering oestrogen into the bloodstream via skin patches or tablets, to counteract the loss of oestrogen caused by menopause. There are two main types of HRT—oestrogen-only, combined oestrogen and progesterone.
Oestrogen-only HRT cannot be used by women who still have their womb, as it can expose them to a higher risk of developing womb cancer, so combined HRT is the preferred option in most cases.
HRT can provide major relief from night sweats and hot flashes, addressing insomnia and making the whole process of menopause more manageable. Of course, you need to discuss the options with your GP—some factors such as high blood pressure, liver disease or a history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, womb cancer or blood clots may make combined HRT unsuitable.
One by One
An alternative approach is to treat the symptoms of menopause individually. Healthline recommends using antidandruff shampoos with ketoconazole 2 percent and zinc pyrithione 1 percent for signs of hair loss, while for symptoms of hair growth across the body, eflornithine hydrochloride in the form of a topical cream can be used.
Similarly, the NHS advocates oestrogen treatment placed directly into the vagina as a cream or vaginal ring to combat vaginal discomfort and dryness. To eradicate insomnia and the overall discomfort triggered by hot flashes and night sweats, the NHS also advises specific antidepressants and clonidine, a medication traditionally used to treat high blood pressure.
Other measures you can take to reduce hot flushes and night sweats include cool showers, dressing in lighter clothing, minimising stress, exercising more and avoiding potential triggers such as caffeine, smoking and alcohol.
Lack of libido can be treated with testosterone supplements—yes, the hormone is mainly associated with the male sex drive, but studies show it to be effective in treating menopause symptoms and is less likely than HRT to increase the risk of breast cancer. Potential side effects to be wary of are unwanted hair growth and acne.
See Also: Managing Hot Flushes and Night Sweats
Alongside your physical health, menopause can impact mental health, with common symptoms including mood swings, depression and anxiety. You can exercise control over these symptoms and maintain your cognitive wellbeing via simple self-help measures. These include getting more sleep, exercising and performing relaxing activities such as yoga or tai chi, which can help with joint pains.
To maintain healthy bones, getting enough vitamin D is paramount, and you can get your boost by going for leisurely strolls in the sunshine. If it’s a typical UK summer, you may have to opt for vitamin D supplement capsules instead!
At the same time, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can ease the impact of menopause on mental health, by improving low moods and reducing anxiety.
CBT involves discussing with a therapist your behavioural and thought patterns, and introducing new, helpful thought patterns. You can discuss this option further with your GP or sign up to online CBT courses. •