What Is Menopause & What Are The Symptoms?

Ageing causes a lot of changes in the body, both physically and mentally. One of those changes is menopause. Even though it’s a completely normal and natural process, many people feel unprepared for what to expect, which can cause them to feel anxious and isolated.

In this guide, we’re going to break down what menopause is, how to recognise it and the best ways to manage it.

In a rush? Read this quick summary:

  • Menopause is a completely normal and natural process that every woman will experience at some point in their lives.
  • Menopause occurs when the ovaries produce fewer hormones and your periods stop altogether. It usually affects women aged 45-55 but can affect younger women.
  • Premature menopause is when menopause occurs before the age of 40. Certain treatments and infections can cause this, but it can happen naturally too.
  • Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, irregular periods, mood swings and irritability, and urinating more frequently.
  • There are many treatments that can be used to manage the symptoms of menopause, including hormone replacement therapy, supplements and vitamins, and diet changes.

What is menopause?

Menopause occurs when the ovaries produce fewer hormones and your periods stop altogether. It usually affects women ages 45 to 55, but it can affect younger women due to genetics or the removal of the ovaries. 

What is premature menopause?

The average age of menopause is 51 or 52, but for some women, it can occur much earlier than that. Premature menopause, also known as premature ovarian failure, occurs before the age of 40. Certain treatments and infections can cause a woman to go into early menopause, but it can occur naturally as well.

Some possible causes are:

  • Genetics
  • Infections such as malaria or mumphs
  • Chromosome abnormalities
  • Autoimmune disease
  • A side effect of chemotherapy
  • Smoking

The important thing to remember is that women who have premature ovarian failure have intermittent ovulation, which means that it’s still possible to get pregnant naturally. If this is a concern, speak to your GP, who can conduct tests and offer advice on your situation.

What is perimenopause?

Many people get confused between menopause and perimenopause, but there is a simple difference between the two. Perimenopause refers to the transitioning period before you reach menopause. Some women start seeing signs and symptoms from their mid-30s, for others, it could be mid to late 40s. This is completely normal as everyone’s body is different.

During this time, oestrogen levels will rise and fall, and this will be reflected in your menstrual cycles. Some people will notice longer or shorter cycles as well as varying symptoms that come and go. Perimenopause can last a few months or up to 10 years, depending on the person. When you have gone 12 consecutive months without a period, that’s when you’ve reached menopause.

If you are struggling or the symptoms are interfering with daily life, speak to your GP for advice.

What are the symptoms?

In the lead up to menopause, some people will only experience mild and subtle symptoms. For others, these symptoms increase as they reach menopause. It differs from person to person, but here are the most common symptoms:

  • Irregular periods
  • Hot flashes
  • Dry skin and/or mouth
  • Breast tenderness
  • Problems falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Increase in headaches
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Brain fog
  • Low libido
  • Urinating more frequently

There could be other symptoms that are not included on this list that come and go. Most of the time, it’s normal. But if you’re unsure about anything or it’s having a big impact on your life, your GP can offer suitable treatment.

How long do symptoms last?

There’s generally no timeframe. For some people, symptoms could be mild and last for just a few months. For others, symptoms could last for a few years and impact their day-to-day lives. Some people will see improvements in some symptoms as time goes on. It’s not uncommon for new symptoms to crop up suddenly, either. 

What does testing involve?

Some of the symptoms of menopause can mimic other conditions, so it’s best to go to the doctors to rule out other causes first. Your GP will probably start by asking you questions about your symptoms, when they started and when your last period was. In some cases, the answers to these questions will confirm that you are going through menopause and no other testing will be required.

If you are under 40 and the GP suspects that you’re experiencing premature menopause, then they will send you for a blood test. The blood test will measure FSH (follicle-stimulate hormone) levels to confirm it. Higher levels of this hormone would suggest you are going through premature menopause. This test is only accurate if you’re not taking hormonal contraception, as this can alter the FSH levels and give an inaccurate diagnosis.

Your GP will also send you for a blood test and conduct further tests to rule out other medical conditions like thyroid disease, pregnancy and reproductive disorders.

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Treatments for menopause

Not everyone will need treatment for menopause. If your symptoms are mild and you can manage them, then there’s no need for medications. Some people find their symptoms naturally improve or go away over a period of time.

Treatment can be split between natural methods and hormonal therapy.

Hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) replaces lost oestrogen, which can help with common symptoms like night sweats, mood swings, vaginal dryness and breast tenderness. Oestrogen can come in the form of patches, tablets, gels or implants. You can try different methods and doses to see what works best for you. Some people find that a lower dose is enough to reduce mild to moderate symptoms. If you have a womb, you might also take progesterone to help protect the lining.

If you have milder symptoms or prefer to go for natural methods, then there are some options. Eating a whole-foods diet and focusing on vegetables and whole grains should help to improve symptoms alongside exercising at least 4 to 5 times a week.

There are some supplements and vitamins that can help with the most common symptoms. These include:

  • Vitamin E
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Sea buckthorn
  • B-vitamins
  • Sage
  • Ashwaganda

There are many menopause formulas on the market that can help to lessen the symptoms and make the transition much easier for you. 

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