Answers to Your Top Menopause Questions
If you read our article on Managing Menopause a few months ago, you might know that menopause isn't actually the months and years of hot flushes, mood swings, irregular menstrual periods and all the other experiences that we correlate to symptoms of menopause.
But if you missed that blog, then chances are you still have questions about menopause.
For example, you might not be aware that menopause is, in fact, one moment in time: the point at which a woman's periods have been stopped for one year.
The British Menopause Society says that most women will experience worse symptoms in what they call the "late peri-menopause," or the time that comes after that moment of menopause. And these symptoms can be debilitating, with a reported one woman in four experiencing severe issues that significantly affect their lives.
According to Menopause Support, at least 60% of menopausal women experience symptoms that have an effect on their behaviour.
It just goes to show, if you're feeling like you don't have all the answers to questions about menopause, you're not alone.
With about 13 million women in the UK currently perimenopausal or postmenopausal, there are a lot of women all in the same boat. Of that number, about two-thirds complain of a lack of support and understanding — even from the medical profession!
To help shed some light on this important topic, we are answering your top 8 menopause questions.
1. What's the difference between menopause and peri-menopause?
As noted above, menopause is defined as the time when your periods have been stopped for 12 months. After that point, you are considered to be postmenopausal. Perimenopause is the period before you reach menopause when your body experiences the hormonal changes to prepare for menopause. You can have some or all the same symptoms at this stage as when you are in postmenopause.
2. What are the symptoms of menopause?
You can find out the 10 most common signs of menopause in our earlier post, but here is a summary of the symptoms that most women will experience:
- Irregular periods, including a change in the duration or heaviness of your flow
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- More frequent urination
- Sleep disturbance
- Mood swings, anxiety and irritability
- Vaginal dryness and/or itching
- Painful sexual intercourse, or lack of libido
- Pelvic floor dysfunction, including incontinence and prolapse
- Problems with concentration, memory and the famous ‘brain fog’
3. When will my menopause start?
Every woman will have a unique experience of menopause, although often your path will be the same as or similar to your mother's. Usually, it will be within the period from mid-40s to early-50s when the changes begin, although you might continue to have symptoms for a much longer period. For some women, perimenopause will start earlier — even as early as your 30s, in some cases.
This timing might also be affected by external factors such as cancer treatment or surgery.
4. How long will my menopause last?
Again, this is an individual experience that will be different for each woman. It can be relatively short and non-invasive or it can be more severe or last as long as 15 years. As that's a significant period of time to suffer from uncomfortable symptoms, it's worth doing everything you can to alleviate any problems you're having.
5. Is there a treatment for hot flushes?
Hot flushes are the quintessential menopause symptom. Most women will experience them, and they can be very disruptive to your day-to-day life. For many women, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a safe and effective treatment for a range of problems, including hot flushes.
More natural ways to deal with the sudden rush of heat to the head and torso include:
- Keeping a fan handy
- Dressing in layers so that you can remove some when necessary
- Sleeping with a bag of frozen peas under your pillow for night-time flushes that cause night sweats
- Slowly taking deep breaths when you feel one coming on
You can also learn to identify triggers for hot flushes and avoid them. Some common things that are known to affect many women are drinking alcohol, eating spicy food, consuming caffeine or sugar and stress.
6. What causes menopause symptoms?
All of the feelings and experiences that come with menopause and perimenopause are caused by a dramatic decrease in hormone levels in your body, especially the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, produced by the ovaries.
7. Does menopause make you gain weight?
Weight gain during menopause is very common. Decreasing estrogen causes sleep disturbance, loss of muscle mass and insulin resistance, all of which contribute to a tendency to retain more body fat. What's more, according to the NHS, your body will store more calories than it burns, so you need to eat about 200 calories less a day.
Another change related to weight gain during menopause is in the places that fat settles. Have you ever heard of the ‘middle-age spread’? It's called that because before menopause, an extra pound of weight will be quite evenly spread throughout your body. But afterwards you will be more likely to gain any weight all around your mid-section, making it much more obvious.
8. Will I have sexual problems after menopause?
Changes in sexual function are very common later in life for both women and men. During menopause, the decrease in estrogen can have a significant effect on all matters related to sex, including lowering your libido and interest in sex, greater difficulty becoming aroused and vaginal dryness or pelvic floor dysfunction, both of which can make sex painful.
Having less sexual intercourse as you age is perfectly normal, and, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, only about half of women in their 50s are still having penetrative sex.
However, help is available to treat these symptoms and support you to retain the level of intimacy that you want throughout your menopause and beyond. HRT, including the addition of testosterone, is available from doctors to improve a lack of desire, and vaginal dryness can be treated with over-the-counter lubricants.
If you're suffering from painful sexual intercourse that is unrelated to dryness, then it's possible that you're suffering from pelvic floor dysfunction that can lead to pelvic organ prolapse and bladder or bowel incontinence.
A Menopause MOT with PelviCare will provide you with a comprehensive assessment and a practical plan personalised to tackle the problems you are facing.
For more information about women's health physiotherapy can help you cope with menopause, call Magdalena on 07877 017 936 or drop PelviCare an email. Alternatively, you can book an appointment online or find a full list of the treatments available on our website.
PelviCare Women's Health Physiotherapy is located in Greenwich, London, serving women across South London, East London, Essex, Kent and beyond.