What is Menopause?
The menopause is a subject that’s weirdly shrouded in mystery – but just like menstruation, it’s a totally natural process. We’ll talk through what age it usually starts at, the symptoms and signs of menopause as well as possible treatment.
And while it can be tricky to navigate if you aren’t sure what to look out for, knowing what it entails means you can take it in your stride.
So what is menopause exactly?
The menopause is when you stop ovulating due to a fall in the levels of oestrogen and progesterone in your body. But it’s also a collection of symptoms and changes that a woman goes through just before or just after she stops menstruating for good. It can be a tricky time to deal with emotionally – some people may be glad they don’t have to deal with periods anymore, while others might feel sad that they will no longer have their menstrual cycle. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s absolutely normal.
What are the first signs of menopause?
The first signs of menopause happen in the time known as ‘perimenopause’ when the body displays various symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, and erratic menstrual flow. The first sign of the menopause is usually a change in the pattern of your menstrual cycle, and you may experience irregular periods. It can be disorientating when you first notice your body and cycle changing, but it’s not something to worry about, or that you can stop.
Think of it as beginning a new chapter in your life and talk to your friends and family about it. You might be surprised how much it helps to share your experience. Always remember that if you are struggling with the symptoms of perimenopause, it’s always worth checking in with your doctor for advice.
At what ages does the menopause usually start?
The menopause is a gradual process that tends to happen in stages. The age you are at its onset is hereditary. It can begin as early as 40 or as late as 60, with the average age being 51 . Menopause can happen at a range of ages and can even be medically induced at any age as part of the treatment of certain diseases.
When do periods stop?
Perimenopause symptoms typically start a few months or even years before your periods stop and continue for around four years afterwards . It’s important to note that periods don’t just turn off one day – our bodies are not faucets, after all! The reality is more gradual.
You may experience substantial period bleeding, where your flow becomes uncharacteristically heavy. Or your periods may become much lighter and more intermittent. You may have a period every two or three weeks, or not have one for months at a time. Though this can be unnerving, especially if you’re used to your regular cycle, remember that all this is natural process, and nothing to worry too much about.
What are the ongoing symptoms of menopause?
When you first notice changes that may be menopausal, it’s important to talk to your doctor, so you can have a blood test for confirmation and get advice so you feel prepared to cope with everything that the menopause might throw at you. The most typical menopausal symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, irritability, sleep disturbances and vaginal dryness. Some women experience light incontinence, meaning they might notice a few drops of pee from time to time. But there are lots of other signs, too, such as dizziness, bloating, weight gain, mood swings, headaches, and loss of libido.
It can sound like a lot to deal with, but know that you won’t have to deal with all the symptoms all at once. Going through the symptoms of menopause is completely normal as your body adjusts to the changing balance of hormones. If you’re navigating menopause symptoms, we encourage you to let your family and friends know – it can help to know you have people there to vent to, laugh with and ask for support from if you need it.
What treatment options are out there to help with menopause?
The menopause can be an emotionally trying time but it can also be a relief to no longer have to deal with the hassle of periods and PMS. Some people even find they feel more confident and at ease in their own skin when they are postmenopausal.
While some get no symptoms, most people experience at least one symptom, or a combination of a few. If this is you, you don’t need to go through it all in silence, or without support. Many people find regular exercise to be beneficial in reducing symptoms, while acupuncture and hypnotherapy have both been found to be effective in tackling hot flushes and insomnia. In the past, HRT or hormone replacement therapy was the standard treatment, but recent research has linked this to breast cancer, blood clots and strokes, so it’s wise to talk things through with your doctor and ask what they recommend .
As bladder control can be affected by the menopause, it’s a good idea to have a liner to hand that can cope with flows of any kind (including little drops of pee).
Post-menopausal life – what happens?
With menopause symptoms, it’s different for everybody. For some, they could last 4 years after your last period, but for others it could be much longer. Everyone’s body adjusts in their own time, so it’s not something you can change or should worry about.
Mentions of menopause don’t have to be overwhelming – get help accessing support through the International Menopause Society.
Have you personally gone through the menopause? We believe that our stories need to be heard, so we can listen, learn and support each other. If you’d like to, why not share your story with us?
The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.