It's called 'the change' for a reason. The menopause is a transition into the next stage of a woman's life and trying to make sense of these changes can take time. Sometimes it feels like we're being completely reintroduced to our own bodies. Recognising the signs of early menopause not only prepares you for what's to come, but also allows you to tackle each symptom head on and from an early stage.
1. ‘Ooh! It’s hot in here!”
Potentially the most widely recognised symptom that women will go through during the menopause is hot flushes, i.e. a sudden and intense feeling of warmth, often accompanied by sweating. Indeed, up to 85% of women will experience hot flushes during this time in their life, and is one of the first symptoms you'll get.
Menopausal hot flushes are most likely caused by the hormone changes in the body and its effect on the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a portion of the brain that regulates the body, including temperature, hunger, and hormone levels.
What to do? According to Miss Tania Adib of Twenty-five Harley Street day clinic, the herb Black Cohosh is effective for hot flushes, and other menopausal symptoms, although it does not alter oestrogen levels. Miss Adib, who prescribes herbal medication along with more conventional HRT to her patients, comments: “This has received bad press due to few cases of liver failure, but is widely used in Europe with good safety data, and considered effective.”
2. “I just need some sleep!”
During the menopause, it can feel as though your hormones are playing havoc with your entire body, making your everyday life more difficult to manage and predict. One review claims that the prevalence of sleep problems go from 12% up to 40% in women aged in their late 40s/early 50s.
Studies have found a significant relationship between the severity of hot flushes in menopausal women and the rate of insomnia. Over 80% of women who get severe hot flushes will also report symptoms of chronic insomnia. However, even in the absence of hot flushes, menopausal women are still more likely to experience sleep disturbances.
What to do: Exercise early in the day and make sure you get out for a walk and see some sunlight. This can help regulate your sleep patterns. Take care about doing exercise in the evening, as if you’re prone to insomnia, this can lead to feeling too wide awake.
3. “Not tonight dear …”
Although age is associated with a decline in sex drive for both men and women, women are up to three times more likely to experience this. While many things can contribute to this lack of sexual desire, the lower levels of oestrogen and psychological stress associated with the menopause are no doubt contributing factors.
In menstruating women, libido tends to peak before and after ovulation (your body's way of increasing your chances of getting pregnant) due to our hormone levels.
What to do: Getting the right balance of Hormone Replacement Therapy might be the answer. You should talk to your Consultant Gynaecologist about this. Leery of HRT? A dose of vitamin D could help pep things up, as its associated with helping boost oestrogen. Miss Adib says: ”There are a number of vitamin and mineral supplements which can be very beneficial around the time of the menopause and beyond. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which all-round multivitamin is right for you.”
Lower levels of oestrogen during the menopause can also reduce the amount of natural lubricant our vagina's produce. This dryness can lead to serious discomfort, particularly during sex. Without proper lubrication, sexual intercourse is more likely to be painful due to friction.
What to do: Oestrogen creams can help, but a more lasting solution that doesn’t make you faff about with creams in the heat of the moment could be The MonaLisa Touch laser treatment. This restores moisture to the vaginal walls. Three treatments are said to improve vaginal dryness with a 90% effectiveness rating. Available at Twenty-five Harley Street.
5. “My PMS is getting worse …”
Another common symptom of the menopause is the effect it can have on our emotional wellbeing. Hormonal changes can contribute to erratic feelings (including anger, frustration and depression) but the stress from symptoms can contribute to feelings of anxiety. Other than affecting our ability to become pregnant, the menopause can lead to weight gain, hair loss, a decrease in skin elasticity, and joint stiffness. By no means are all women going to experience these, but even the prospect of such changes can cause a lot of psychological distress.
What to do: Miss Tania Adib recommends practising mindfulness. She says: “Exercising and a good diet will make stress less acutely felt, but relaxation techniques can also reduce symptoms of the menopause, such as anxiety. Simply focusing on your breathing for five minutes can have a positive effect on how you feel. Just slow down and be present in yourself.”
6. “Whoops, I forgot!”
The effect that the menopause has on our memory is probably one of the lesser known symptoms that women can experience. Often referred to as 'brain fog', becoming forgetful and lacking in concentration has, in some studies, been reported in 60% of menopausal women. This is thought to be due to the effect oestrogen has on the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in cognitive function.
What to do: Feed up on Omega 3 rich oily fish or pop a supplement if you’re not a fish fan. According to Miss Adib, Omega 3 may help with a poor memory, along with dry skin, eyes and nails, fatigue, depression.
7. “Do I have to worry about osteoporosis?”
If you break a bone it's obviously not so subtle a sign. However, during the menopausal years, bone thinning can occur. Osteoporosis is commonly associated with age, but women are four times more likely to experience it than men. Oestrogen plays a vital role in the ability to maintain healthy bone density, making women with lower levels of the hormone more likely to experience fractures. The menopause is characterised by a drop in oestrogen levels, and this puts menopausal women at a far greater risk of developing osteoporosis. In fact, up to half of UK women over 50 years old are likely to experience osteoporosis fractures.
What to do: When it comes to bone thinning, prevention is better than a cure. Many women discover they have osteoporosis when they suffer a fracture - but if you know your risk you can take medication and preventative action. You’ll need to have a DEXA scan to discover if your bones have thinned. Available at Twenty-five Harley Street.
8. “Why is my hair falling out?”
Changes in hair can happen during and after the menopause. Experiencing it can have a detrimental effect on confidence and self-esteem. Any time in a woman's life that involves hormonal changes (e.g. puberty, pregnancy, menopause) can affect hair growth and texture. However, genetic predisposition, diet, medical history and stress levels can all contribute to whether you'll experience hair thinning (or loss) during these times in your life.
What to do: Get your bloods done to find out whether there’s an underlying problem such as hypothyroidism or a vitamin deficiency causing your hair loss. Twenty-five Harley Street has its own onsite path lab to diagnose deficiencies when you have a consultation.
The time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle, and her periods ceaseFull medical glossary