Are you confident that you know everything you need to know about menopause? This was the subject of the Hot Women Rock radio show on 1 July.
Over the last 11 years I have worked with women one to one, and talked to many women’s groups on the subject of menopause all around the world and there is one common theme. Most women head into their 40s knowing very little about what is happening to their bodies at menopause and what they can do to stay happy and healthy.
Surprisingly it’s not a subject many women talk about with their mothers. I never had that conversation with my own mother. That was partly because she was a catastrophiser about anything medical. But also, she had a hysterectomy in her late 30s in the days before doctors generally didn’t prescribe hormone replacement therapy to women in those circumstances. It was a tough time.
The Basic Questions
In my experience of working with women clients and speaking to groups, there’s a lot of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge around the terms associated with menopause. So, let’s start with the basics.
What do we mean by menopause?
Menopause is defined as the day a year after your last menstrual period. That’s because you can’t be sure it was your last period until 12 months have passed.
Perimenopause is the term used to describe the years either side of menopause when you might experience symptoms.
The average age of menopause is 51 in the UK and USA. That’s an average so it could be years earlier or a few years later. And you could start experiencing symptoms in perimenopause from your early 40s and into your early 60s. About 75% of women experience symptoms.
Some people go through menopause much earlier, in fact you can go through it at any time after your periods start. Between 1 and 4% of people go through menopause before age 40 either naturally or due to medical interventions such as hysterectomy, radiotherapy, or hormone treatment for cancer. Trans men may go through menopause depending on what treatment route they go through.
What are the symptoms?
Menopause is not an illness. It’s a natural stage of life like puberty. However, the changes in the hormones give rise to physical, emotional and cognitive symptoms.
Everyone thinks of menopause as being about hot flushes but it can be so much more than that. The physical symptoms of menopause can include: changes to menstrual periods, hot flashes/night sweats, weight gain, changes in body shape, poor sleep, headaches/migraines, loss of bone density, dry, itchy skin, and hair loss
Then there’s the emotional symptoms: anxiety, low mood, mood swings, loss of confidence, anger and decrease in libido
Finally, there’s the cognitive symptoms: brain fog, memory issues, and lack of concentration. Some women fear that they are developing dementia but, don’t worry, these symptoms do pass.
That all sounds over-whelming but not everyone experiences all or any of that. I just wanted to give you a fairly comprehensive list so that you don’t think you’re the only one experiencing these symptoms. Some of my clients have told me it’s a relief to know that they are not alone.
Are there tests for menopause? How will I know I’m in perimenopause?
I often get asked this question. Obviously, your age and the symptoms you experience are a good indicator as to what is going on. You can have blood tests or saliva tests to measure your levels of estrogen or follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). You can even buy basic tests from pharmacies or drug stores.
The problem is that your hormone levels vary from day to day so one day you might be in a normal range and another day you might have levels that suggest you are in perimenopause. It’s complicated.
What are the medical treatment options?
If you go to see your medical practitioner they have three main option: hormone replacement therapy (HRT), antidepressants and sleeping tablets. Here in the UK, you may be offered a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) if you are experiencing emotional symptoms.
There is lots of confusion around HRT concerning the risks and benefits. It is something you need to discuss with your doctor. There are many different formulations of HRT, different proportions of estrogen and progesterone. There are lots of delivery options too such as: tablets, patches, creams, pessaries, rings, and coils. It all depends what stage of your perimenopause you are at and what symptoms you are experiencing.
Anti-depressants may be appropriate if you are experiencing depression. Make sure your doctor tests whether you are depressed before prescribing them. They are not a remedy for menopause.
Sleep can be an issue during perimenopause due to night sweats, anxiety or stress. Doctors generally will not prescribe sleeping tablets unless your sleep has been seriously disrupted for at least a month.
A package of CBT sessions can be very effective in helping with issues around emotional symptoms and creating a positive mindset.
If I don’t want medication what are my options?
When I was writing my first book, Hot Women Cool Solutions, it was initially going to be a solely mind/body approach but half-way through I decided that women need to know all the options so I included more approaches.
Complementary options to manage menopause symptoms include: hypnotherapy, homeopathy, herbal remedies, Traditional Chinese Medicine, aromatherapy, and reflexology.
It’s important with all of those options to find a reputable practitioner to get the best advice and treatment. You can research the regulating bodies for each type of therapy for their registered members. That way you know the person you see is qualified, supervised and insured.
How can my nutrition and lifestyle affect my menopause symptoms?
What you eat provides the building blocks for your body’s hormonal production. So, what you eat is critical. It can either trigger symptoms or support your body through the changes. Every person is different but there are some common symptom triggers that should be reduced or avoided and some foods that can easily be incorporated into your daily diet that will reduce or eliminate your symptoms.
Exercise is helpful to staying healthy physically and emotionally.
Managing your stress levels is important as stress hormones inflame your system and steal the ingredients your body needs to manufacture your reproductive hormones.
It’s an unpopular idea but you may find that you do not handle alcohol so well during perimenopause. It can trigger symptoms such as weight gain, poor sleep and anxiety. If you notice that it is a trigger for you, it’s best to reduce or eliminate your intake.
Getting support from family, friends and in the workplace can powerfully help you at menopause. This topic is not a dirty secret and you are not on your own. Talk about it. It will build your resilience.
Are there any positive aspects to menopause?
Oh yes! It can be like pressing the reset button for the next stage of your life. You are free from periods and the roller-coaster of the monthly cycles. You don’t have to worry about reproduction issues. You can use your energy to pursue your passions and many women do.
What can I do next?
You’ve taken the first step by reading this blog. You are now further forward than most of the women I speak to.
You can listen to my recent Hot Women Rock Radio Show on this subject. Share the link with some women friends who know less than you do.
If you are in the early stages of perimenopause start planning some life style changes to support your body and your wellness. Think about how you want to feel for the next 10 years and the steps you are able to make that will get you there.
I was talking to a woman client recently and she said well menopause doesn’t last that long and she was feeling okay so she could probably tough it out. I reminded her that she probably has another 40 years to live. The decisions she makes now will set the foundations for the rest of her life. It’s worth making some great decisions.
If you feel like you want to be better informed my book Hot Women, Cool Solutions gives you more details on all the things I have talked about and much more. There are also lots of free book bonuses that I’d love you to access.
And, of course, you can work with me one to one. Or you can ask me about talking to your women’s group or to your employer. Contact me for more information.
I want you to have everything you need to know to have a happy and healthy menopause.