For most women, the menopause is a long way off…until suddenly you realise you’re in your late 40s and it might be that time. Perhaps you’ve got a few odd or frustrating symptoms that you’re not sure about and don’t know how to manage. And how do you know if they’re menopausal symptoms or not?
That’s what we’re going to look at in this article.
What is the menopause?
The time that most people call the ‘menopause’ is (medically) the ‘peri-menopause’. That means it’s the time leading up to the last menstrual period of a woman’s life.
Because periods can stop and re-start, a woman is officially through the menopause when she has had one year without periods.
During this time the levels of female hormones from the ovaries – oestrogen/estrogen and progesterone – start to decrease. It’s this loss of the hormones that gives the peri-menopausal symptoms.
REMEMBER – until you have not had periods for 12 months (and therefore are past the menopause) you can still become pregnant, so always maintain appropriate birth control (dedicated article here).
What are the symptoms of the peri-menopause?
The most common symptom is hot flushes/flashes, but there are others that you may experience.
- Irregular periods/periods becoming very light
- Vaginal dryness
- Difficulty with sleeping
- Mood swings
- Urinary problems such as incontinence
- Memory problems/trouble focusing on things
- Losing muscle tissue and gaining fat, especially round the waist
- Feeling stiff and aching.
- You can track your menopause symptoms with this tracker: http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/menopause-symptom-tracker.pdf
Other consequences of the menopause (because of the loss of the female hormones) are:
- Bone loss (osteoporosis)
- Cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke).
What tests will the doctor do for the peri-menopause?
There is no definitive test for the menopause. Your doctor will probably do a physical exam and ask you about your medical and family history, and take some blood tests.
The level of female hormones goes up and down during the menstrual cycle so it can be difficult to pin point a diagnosis from a simple blood test.
Your doctor will probably ask when your mother went through the menopause, as there can be an inherited element to this time in a woman’s life.
However, there are other causes for some of the symptoms above, such as thyroid problems. A blood test will show if this is the case. Pregnancy causes periods to stop or become much lighter so this needs to be excluded.
What is the treatment for the peri-menopause?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms and how severe and/or troublesome they are. You may not need any treatment at all.
There are 2 articles on this site dedicated to looking at managing peri-menopause symptoms:
It’s a good idea to read both of these articles so that you know about all your options. In many cases you may want to use some natural/herbal methods along with some medical treatments.
Always talk to your prescriber if you’re taking herbal supplements as there are some interactions between herbal and medical treatments.
What causes the menopause?
The menopause is the end of a woman’s reproductive life. The ovaries that make the female hormones oestrogen/estrogen and progesterone, start to slow down and eventually stop producing the hormones.
When the menstrual periods stop a woman can no longer become pregnant naturally.
This happens naturally, with the average age of menopause being 51 years.
It can also happen because of:
- Surgical removal of the ovaries. This might happen because a woman has had breast or ovarian cancer or is at high risk of this type of cancer.
- Cancer treatments that damage the ovaries.
- Auto-immune disorders that cause the body to think that the ovaries are ‘foreign tissue’, and then destroy them.
Who gets the menopause?
Every woman who reaches age 60, or who has her ovaries removed/damaged (see above).
Some have it in their early 40s and some later in their 60s.
If you’re worried about your symptoms or medical problem but don’t want to seek professional help because you feel embarrassed, silly or that it’s your fault in some way, read this page now: How to talk to a doctor about an embarrassing problem.