Hot flushes. Strange dreams. And a body clock that can no longer keep time, let alone show up on time. Yes, menopause symptoms can sometimes feel like reading a long list of disclaimers in illegible small print. It’s no surprise then that when we polled 1,000 women as part of our #LifePlus 50+Beauty Report*, the numbers showed that 50% of those yet to enter menopause were worried about it lurking in the distance.
But, we believe that knowledge is power and the mystery that surrounds menopause feeds the fear factor. Whether you suspect you’re perimenopausal or want to know why someone you know is suddenly acting out of character, we’re stripping it all back bit-by-bit to demystify menopause.
OK, What’s Menopause?
Put simply – and according to NHS England – menopause is “when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally”. Sounds simple enough, yet there’s a lot more to this transition that your body is going through.
If we’re talking biology, as the body ages a woman’s oestrogen level declines (the hormone responsible for regulating your menstrual cycle/getting pregnant) and ‘menopause’ is the final destination when eventually periods stop.
What’s the Difference Between Menopause, Perimenopause & Premature Menopause?
Well, if menopause is the final destination, then perimenopause is the journey. If you start experiencing symptoms such as irregular periods, it might be a sign your body is approaching menopause – aka perimenopause – as the decline of oestrogen begins affecting your menstrual cycle.
Some women can often confuse perimenopause with menopause, as common symptoms like hot flushes (more on that later) may occur for a long time leading up to menopause. But, medically speaking if you’re under 50 menopause is diagnosed once you haven’t had a period for two years and if you’re over 50 the diagnosis occurs once you haven’t had a period for a year.
Menopause is a unique process for every woman and because of that, there is no set age of when to expect it. However, the average age in the UK for women to reach menopause is 51. Premature menopause affects 1 in 100 women and is when menopause happens earlier, before the age of 40.
What Are ‘Typical’ Menopause Symptoms?
Menopause symptoms vary from person to person, as do the intensity of the symptoms.
Most reported symptoms can include (but are not limited to): hot flushes, weight gain, mood swings, depression, anxiety, hair loss/thinning, sleep disorders, fatigue, incontinence, memory lapses, low libido, vaginal dryness, aching joints, UTI’s and reduced muscle mass.
While this list makes for heavy reading, it doesn’t mean you will experience all the symptoms during menopause. Much like every woman’s pregnancy or period differs, so do experiences and symptoms during menopause.
How to Manage Menopause Symptoms
If you’re experiencing discomfort from menopause, you do not have to endure symptoms and suffer in silence. Here are some of the treatment options available to you, but always discuss options with your doctor to find out if they’re right for you.
As the most frequent offender amongst most women we speak with, this symptom is a tricky one to navigate because it can sneak up on you like an uninvited house guest. While there’s sadly no quick fix, just like it’s always good to have a box of SOS biscuits to entertain that houseguest, it’s best to stock up on hot flush supplies.
Never be too far away from a bottle of water or a handheld fan (a makeshift one out of paper works in emergencies but electric ones are great for keeping in your bedside drawer when the night sweats call). Also, it goes without saying but breathable clothes/fabrics and keeping your environment at a comfortable, chilled temperature can help. As well as avoiding triggers like drinking alcohol and eating spicy food.
In the months or even years leading up to menopause women may notice a change in their hair pattern including a reduction in its volume, condition or the amount which falls out when it’s washed or brushed. If you notice a change in your hair try reducing the number of heated tools you use (straighteners, hairdryer etc) or try a topical hair treatment to strengthen your hair.
If you’ve noticed a change down there, you’re not alone. Did you know that it’s been reported that 80% of women entering menopause are affected by vaginal dryness? And 50% are affected post-menopause? These changes may be disconcerting, but you can still enjoy a healthy lifestyle and sex life – you simply need the right support in your repertoire. We take a look at them here.
Some women may experience mood swings, feeling low or anxious while going through menopause. While there’s no quick fix for dealing with these often-heightened emotions, there are ways you can promote a better relationship with your mental health and those around you.
Whether it’s practising mindfulness like meditation, staying active to boost your happy hormones or ranting to a friend over a cuppa, do whatever gives you back an element of control over your emotions to help you navigate through any worrying thoughts and bouts of the blues.
Sleepless & Restless Nights
If your body is struggling to switch off at night, then try creating an environment that promotes your chances of enjoying the best night’s sleep. Try experimenting with soothing sleep-inducing oils, from balms and supplements to pillow mists and diffusers. And limit your exposure to TV, technology and blue light before you hit the hay.
Give your body the nutritional support it needs and help alleviate some of the symptoms by eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly and by adding multivitamins and minerals to your day-to-day routine.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
A common preventative measure for the symptoms of menopause is hormone replacement therapy or HRT. This involves taking oestrogen to replace the declining amount in the body and can relieve many of the symptoms.
HRT comes in a number of forms including tablets, skin patches, gels to rub into the skin or as an implant. HRT must be prescribed by your doctor and will only be considered after a consultation to discuss the risks and benefits.