Menopause may be inevitable, but learning about the changes in your body means you won’t need to press pause on life
What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘menopause’?
Do you start to picture older women struggling through hot flushes and night sweats? Hushed whispers about ‘the change’? Perhaps it doesn’t really bring up any images at all. After all it’s a subject that’s quite taboo, even now, and women don’t tend to talk about it very openly.
But I think that it’s time for a change.
I think that this is a stage of life that we should embrace, so that we can drive out the negative connotations and start to see the changes as something positive. Mid-life can be an exciting time – the kids are grown up and leaving home, there’s time for a new career, travelling or learning a new skill.
So let’s grasp the opportunities that come our way, and not push pause on life while we ‘go through the change’!
If we’re going to embrace the menopause, we need to inform ourselves about the hormonal changes taking place, how they affect our bodies, and how we can help to ease the symptoms.
And that means we need to get talking about the menopause a whole lot more. So I’m going to share with you my personal peri-menopause story, in the hope that it will encourage you to talk more openly about your own experience.
What is the Menopause?
Strictly speaking, the word ‘menopause’ means the time when menstruation ceases. This is a natural part of the ageing process, which takes place as oestrogen levels in our body start to decline.
You officially reach menopause when there have been 12 months since the date of your last menstrual period. You may find that as you get closer to menopause, you can lose track of their periods and might not realise when you actually reach menopause.
But what most people mean when they talk about menopause is actually the peri-menopause.
What is the Peri-Menopause?
At this point, you might be wondering what the peri-menopause actually means. It’s a relatively new term, so you might not have heard it used before.
Peri-menopause is a word that describes the time leading up to the menopause. It’s is a time when you may experience a rollercoaster of hormones that rivals that of your teenage years. You might find that your periods get heavier and closer together, and the symptoms that we generally associate with the menopause may start to take effect.
The peri-menopause can last up to 10 years before you have your final period, and for several years afterwards. You’ll probably experience a range of symptoms throughout this time.
My personal Peri-Menopause story
I first started experiencing some of the symptoms of the peri-menopause in my early forties. And like many women, I had no idea what was happening to my body.
First of all, I started experiencing changes to my menstrual cycle. My cycle shortened, and I started getting much heavier periods with flooding and bad period pains.
I first experienced changes to my periods. My cycle got shorter, and my periods became heavier. I paid a visit to my GP after a few months of this, who told me that it was ‘normal at your time of life’. I went home feeling confused – what did ‘my time of life’ mean? It’s not like I was menopausal…
After a couple of years of that, I started getting night sweats started. I would wake up in the night with my heart pounding and drenched with sweat, and of course as soon as I threw off my duvet, I’d feel chilled to the bone.
I’ve never been a great sleeper but my insomnia got progressively worse – I’d regularly get up for the day around 3am.
And then the brain fog set in as well. I found it hard to concentrate on tasks, would forget things regularly and often found myself standing in a room wondering why on earth I was there. List making became a vital part of my daily life and still I had no idea what was happening to me.
It all sounds so obvious now. My Mom and sister had experienced the menopause around 50, but I had no idea that the early symptoms would set in at this age. .
One night, awake at 3am as usual, I started searching for anything which could tell me what was going on in my body. And then I discovered that the symptoms I was experiencing were all part of the peri-menopause. That this was the latest stage of the cycle that my hormones would follow over the course of my life.
I wasn’t going crazy.
But nobody I knew was really talking about the menopause. It’s not the done thing, is it? We put a brave face on it, suffer in silence, keep calm and carry on. And none of that is any help when your body is going through these changes.
So I think it’s time to start talking more about the menopause: What it means, how it affects us, and ways to ease the transition into the next stage of our life.
When does the Menopause happen?
Usually menopause takes place between the ages of 45 and 55, and the average age for UK women to experience menopause is 51.
However 1% of UK women experience premature menopause, which is when you stop having periods by the age of 40.
The peri-menopause lasts for several years before periods actually stop. You may experience symptoms for as long as 10 years before your final period, and for around 4 years afterwards. Some women also find that their symptoms continue for several years after menstruation has ceased.
So you could start to experience the peri-menopause in your early 40s. This may feel a bit confusing, as if you’re too young to be going through these changes, but it’s totally normal.
Your hormones are unique to you, and you can’t predict when your periods will stop. If your mother or sister has already been through the menopause, this may give you some indication of when you’re likely to stop having periods. But this is just a rough guide, not an an accurate test. Blood tests can check the level of hormones in your blood, which may give you more of an indication.
What are the symptoms of the Menopause?
The way that you experience the menopause is totally individual. The way that you feel, and how you cope with the symptoms will be different from even your closest relatives.
Most women will experience some symptoms when they are going through peri-menopause, but the severity and duration will vary from person to person.
Common symptoms of the peri-menopause include:
- menstrual changes
- hot flushes
- night sweats
- low moods
- reduced libido
- brainfog (problems with concentration and memory)
Changes to menstruation can include the length of your cycle and of your period, the heaviness and consistency of the flow. You may also find that you experience PMT more during the peri-menopause.
Read more about the menopause on the NHS website
When to see your GP
Menopause symptoms are totally normal, but it’s worth having a chat with your GP if your symptoms are troubling your or if you are experiencing symptoms of the menopause before the age of 45.
If you find that your GP is dismissive or says that there isn’t anything to be done for your symptoms, be persistent. If necessary, ask to see another GP and try to find one who has experience in this area.
Your GP should be able to offer various forms of treatment, which will help you to manage your symptoms and get on with your life.
These may include Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) in the form of tablets, patches or gels. CBT may also help with some of the low moods and anxiety that can accompany the menopause. If these interest you, it’s worth making an appointment to discuss them with your GP.
If those don’t sound like something you want to explore yet, they may be able to advise you on managing your symptoms through diet, exercise, relaxation or complementary therapies.
But don’t let them brush your concerns under the carpet – you don’t need to suffer through the peri-menopause.