The word menopause may translate as the ‘end of monthly cycles’, from the Greek word pausis ('pause') and mēn ('month'), but that doesn’t really tell the whole story.
If you were under the impression the menopause was all over in one day, or even a few months, you may be in for a surprise.
Research from the US has shown the average time frequent menopausal symptoms lasted was 7.4 years.
For some women, these symptoms can last more than ten years.
Consultant gynaecologist Mr Neale Watson of The London PMS and Menopause Centre says: ‘It is key to understand and acknowledge the real physiological changes brought about by decreasing hormone levels that take place during and after the menopause. The production of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone stops.’
He adds: ‘The hormone oestrogen is extremely important within the female body and it affects many aspects of health. As a consequence, when it diminishes there are profound impacts on health.’
So what are the symptoms of the menopause?
- Hot flushes and night sweats - 80% of women will experience hot flushes and on average last for about 5 years but in some women can last for much longer
- Depression and mood changes
- Sleep disturbance due to anxiety and hot flushes
- Brain fog, lack of ability to concentrate and forgetfulness
- Vaginal dryness caused by thinning of the vaginal tissue
- Frequent urination and urinary tract infections
- Aching joints
- Loss of bone density leading to oesteoporosis
More unusual symptoms of the menopause
- Change of body odour
- Breast tenderness
- Burning mouth syndrome
- Tingling in the legs
- Restless legs at night
- Dry mouth and dental problems
- Hair loss or thinning hair
Sounds scary? The good news is, there are treatments available to ease and control these symptoms and protect your future health.
HRT is extremely effective at relieving hot flushes and night sweats and easing issues such as vaginal dryness. According to Mr Watson it is also good for concentration and mood. He says: ‘Oestrogen affects the release of the neuro-transmitters dopamine and serotonin – both of which play a key part in regulating mood. As a consequence, declining levels of oestrogen often results in low or fluctuating moods. In our clinic, we have seen countless cases of women’s depression that has been successfully alleviated by the correct dosage of hormone replacement.’
Mr Watson also says there is good evidence that HRT can protect heart health. ‘We know that women have an increased risk of heart attacks after the menopause, however, we also know that HRT can offer protection against coronary artery disease,’ he says. ‘Some studies have indicated that it can reduce the chance of having a heart attack by up to 50%.’
‘US research indicates that women taking HRT for less than six years after the menopause had slower artery wall thickening than those taking a placebo,’ he adds.
The small risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can be lowered further by using a patch or a gel over a tablet-form of HRT.
In addition, oestrogen helps to protect bone strength lessening the risks of osteoporosis and fractures. This is a serious condition which is associated with bone fractures and is associated with higher mortality. We know that around 25 percent of people die within the first six to 12 months after a hip fracture.
Mr Watson comments: ‘Osteoporosis is best avoided in the first place if at all possible and HRT can help with this.’
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