I am a health and fitness professional and the well-being of all women (and men) is at the core of my everyday life and is what gets me out of bed in the mornings.
I went recently to a seminar about the Menopause, where the guest speakers included, amongst others, a gynaecologist, a physiotherapist and a menopause counsellor. I found it very informative and inspiring and was astounded at the huge range of symptoms, some of which I had no idea were to do with our age.
Of course, there are hundreds of books, blogs and sites devoted to the subject, never mind experts happy to talk. But the thing is, women do have to be enticed to discuss the menopause as it involves quite intimate topics.
In Preparing for the Menopause Part I we looked at what we can do to protect our bones to dodge osteoporosis, and reduce the risk of bone fractures (have you bought your vitamin D supplements yet?).
In this Part II, I’m going to list some of the things which you may experience from late thirties through to late sixties. They are physical and emotional changes and they may form part of the transition your body is going to make as it heads towards the menopause. Not everyone suffers with all of them or indeed any of them and one of the main things I learnt was that every single woman has a different experience.
You may chat to your friend about her anxiety and her thinning hair (both can occur as menopausal symptoms) and you may think she’s bonkers. All you’ve got is a damp top lip and a flagging libido.
Below I have made a kind of list of various symptoms in the hope that you aren’t taken by surprise by any of them should you experience them. I am not medically qualified so any treatments or advice I give is purely from listening to experts, through reading and through personal experience.
At the end of this piece I talk a little about HRT. Don’t miss that bit out.
There is also some reading and social media recommendations.
ANXIETY / FEARFULNESS / A CHANGE IN YOUR CONFIDENCE LEVELS
Small things may suddenly become huge issues. You may feel like the rug has been pulled from under your feet. You used to find it so easy to make decisions, now it’s impossible. You’re sweating the small stuff and you always used to be so in control. You may have your own tactics but I learnt of a mindfulness app called Clarity, designed with women in the 30’s to 50’s in mind to aid relaxation and sleep.
HOT FLUSHES (both day and nighttime)
A sudden feeling of extreme heat, resulting in heat to the face and then perspiring. There are differing levels but all will take you by surprise. You will need to find solutions to deal with them : fans, tissues, towel on the bed at night, cold water handbag spritz. (I used to take Sage tablets and they did help ease the flushes but it may only be temporary).
I’m tentatively mentioning this one…as so often people blame the menopause for their weight gain when actually it’s the daily wine habit (possibly through anxiety or stress) or less exercise which has caused this.
HRT does not so I’m told cause weight gain. Accept that the menopause will happen and try not to give up on good habits that you already have in place.
These may start to become less regular but at the same time heavier or lighter. This will be the start of a change. You might find that each month your light spotting has suddenly become a torrent. Or vice versa. Get a good supply of those things with wings.
With oestrogen and progesterone levels changing this can affect energy levels and you may feel unbelievably tired on some days during each month. Disturbed sleep due to night sweats or trips to the loo won’t help. if this is an everyday occurrence, then think about your daily routine and your lifestyle. HRT may be able to help. See below.
CHANGES IN MOOD
General irritability can be put down to work, children, relationships and just having too much going on. Mood swings you may notice occur suddenly and without good reason (although I’m sure we can always find one!) and these will take you by surprise as well as everyone else.
DRY SKIN AND LOSS OF ELASTICITY
The change in hormones may cause you to have really dry skin. Apparently we need a skin cream with alpha hydroxy acids in (AHA) to help flake off the dead skin cells so that the cream can do its moisturising thing. If that’s the only symptom you end up having, then do a little dance.
This is quite common and I never realised it was due to hormonal changes. I had aching ankles for about two years. I found walking for the first five minutes every day quite difficult. I took Turmeric supplements every day and it eased very quickly. (Curcumin is the active ingredient, so consult your local health food store to find a good one).
VAGINAL DRYNESS AND SORENESS
Lack of oestrogen may make the lining of the vagina thinner, which can make sex painful. It is known as ‘vaginal atrophy’. We were told at the Seminar that a topical oestrogen pessary or cream can help this. It is not classed as HRT. See also Preparing for the Menopause Part III: Pelvic Health.
As with the vagina, oestrogen plays a part in a healthy functioning bladder. Therefore when levels of oestrogen decline, the bladder lets us know by waking us up to wee more often ..annoyingly often at night.
LIBIDO (LACK OF)
Difficult subject and one to be discussed with your partner to check you are both on the same page and before any resentment builds up. Some women at the seminar I attended reported a change (for the better) in libido since taking HRT. Others said there was no change and they still didn’t want any sex. That’s a cheerful thought, isn’t it girls? There are, of course, many different types of HRT if you choose to go that route so don’t always accept the first one you are given.
POOR CONCENTRATION and LACK OF MEMORY
We’ve all been there. It’s possibly just age but it has been connected with the menopause. Supplements of Vitamin B complex and gingko biloba are widely known to help. That sentence is based on hearsay and reading it in other books, nothing else.
HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy)
If you are suffering badly with any symptoms listed above (and there may be others…remember every woman has a different menopausal experience), then you may consider it worth finding out more about HRT either by talking to your GP or by reading and research.
One thing which has struck me since I started delving more into the symptoms of the menopause is that HRT does not come with the threat of breast cancer that it used to fifty years ago. Science has moved on and the HRT which can be prescribed now is so much closer in form to the natural hormones our bodies produce.
There was a female gynaecologist speaking at the seminar I attended and she made a very important point (and a surprising one). That being overweight carries much more risk of breast cancer than taking HRT.(Obviously if there is a history of breast cancer in your family, then this should be disclosed to your GP as this will most likely affect treatment).
There are sprays, patches and pills. They may be oestrogen only, or oestrogen and progesterone, or one of those with a little dose of testosterone too. HRT still carries with it a stigma. A label. It doesn’t have to anymore.
What really struck me was that we are all going to live longer. Not only that, the fastest growing demographic in the workforce is women in their 50’s. We’re going to be working for a long time, earning money, having opportunities and choices. How fantastic is that? Let’s not let the menopausal years hold us back.
There are plenty of websites and books on the topic so you can fully research the facts and your choices.
There are so many on the subject but I thought this was very good. Short and to the point:
MENOPAUSE: The One-Stop Guide by Kathy Abernethy.
I also read this recently and it is no-nonsense and seems to favour HRT. There are lots of recipes in there too – although I would rather have had more facts and some case-studies.
THE GOOD MENOPAUSE GUIDE : Liz Earle.
Preparing for the Menopause Part III will touch on the subject of pelvic health. That’s pelvic floors and vaginas.
You can’t wait can you?
See you there.