Health in the City: Menopause

London Mums have joined forces with BMI Healthcare to encourage women in London to be more aware of the issues surrounding their health and wellbeing in the capital. In this article we look at the menopause and what you need to know.

menopause 1 woman sitting

Menopause: what is it?

The menopause marks the end of menstruation and potential childbearing. It’s a transition, not a disease, and although it can be an uncomfortable phase with hot flushes, night sweats and other symptoms, it can also mark a new and rewarding chapter – and a golden opportunity to guard against major health risks such as heart disease and osteoporosis.

 

What causes menopause?

Age is the leading cause of menopause. It’s the end of a woman’s potential childbearing years, brought on by a gradual slowing down of the ovaries. Certain operations and treatments can also induce menopause including surgical removal of the ovaries (bilateral oophorectomy), chemotherapy and pelvic radiation therapy. A hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) without removing the ovaries does not lead to menopause, although you will no longer have periods.

 

When does menopause start?

In the UK the average age of the menopause is 52 years. However it can start as early as 40 or (for a very small percentage) as late as 60. Smokers may start a couple of years earlier than non-smokers. But there is no proven way to predict your menopause age. Also, it can only be confirmed to have happened once you have missed periods for 12 months in a row (without other obvious causes).

 

Before menopause, perimenopause

Natural menopause happens gradually. The ovaries don’t abruptly stop; they slow down. This transition to menopause is called ‘perimenopause’ and during this time it’s still possible to get pregnant. Your ovaries are still functioning and you still may ovulate, though not necessarily every month.

 

What to expect

There is no ‘standard’ menopause. Some women reach it with little or no trouble while others have severe symptoms that drastically hamper their lives. When menopause starts suddenly as a result of surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, the adjustment can be difficult.

 

Some common symptoms:

 

• Changes in periods

As menopause approaches, your periods will probably change. They may get shorter or longer, heavier or lighter, or happen at shorter or longer intervals. All these variations are normal, although if periods come very close together, or you have heavy bleeding or spotting, or they last more than a week, raise it with your GP.

 

• Hot flushes

These are common, and may make your face and neck flushed and cause temporary red blotches on your chest, back and arms. Sweating and chills may follow. Hot flushes vary in intensity and typically last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes. Dressing in light layers, using a fan, getting regular exercise, managing stress and avoiding spicy foods and heat may all help.

menopause 1 woman sporty

• Sleep problems

Hot flushes can hamper your sleep and cause night sweats. Use a fan in your bedroom, avoid heavy bedding and choose light cottons or sheer materials for your

nightclothes and keep a damp cloth by your bed. Again, talk to your GP if these symptoms persist.

 

• Sexual problems

Less oestrogen can lead to vaginal dryness. If so, try a water-soluble lubricant. The menopause may also alter your sex drive. Some find it improves, but if it declines have a chat with your doctor. Remember, the same rules about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) still apply and safe sex is as important as ever.

 

When to see your GP

If you have menopausal symptoms that are troubling you, see your GP.In women under 50 years of age, the menopause is diagnosed after 24 months without a period. In women aged 50 or over, it is diagnosed after 12 months without a period. There’s no definitive test to diagnose the menopause. A blood test is sometimes carried out to measure the level of the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). However, the result only occasionally helps in managing the menopause.

 

Treating the menopause

Medication for the oestrogen deficiency symptoms that can occur around the time of the menopause isn’t always needed. Many women find that making simple diet and lifestyle changes relieve their symptoms (see below).

If your menopausal symptoms are more severe and interfere with your day-to-day life, treatment may be recommended.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is one of the main treatments used for the menopause. It helps relieve menopausal symptoms by replacing oestrogen. It’s available in many forms including tablets, cream or gel, a skin patch or an implant.

Vaginal lubricants can be used to treat vaginal dryness, and antidepressants are sometimes prescribed for treating hot flushes.

 

Self-help

Making simple dietary and lifestyle changes can often improve your menopausal symptoms. For example, eating a healthy, balanced diet and taking plenty of regular exercise can help you avoid putting on extra weight, which can often occur during the menopause. A healthy diet that includes all the food groups will help keep your bones strong and healthy. Combining aerobic activities, such as walking, with strength and flexibility exercises will also help you maintain bone strength and muscle mass.

 

For more information on the women’s health services available at BMI Healthcare please visit: www.bmihealthcare.co.uk/womens_health or call: 0808 101 0337

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