Menopause is something that all women will eventually face as they age, some sooner than others. It can be a scary and uncertain time for many and will take some adjustment. It is important that we know what symptoms and changes our bodies go through during this time so that we can get the best treatment and support for both ourselves and our families.
Menopause usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age as the natural levels of oestrogen decrease. However, menopause can also be brought on much sooner due to surgical removal of the ovaries or other medical conditions.
According to the National Health Service in England (NHS), the symptoms can start years before your last period and last for approximately 4 years after your period ends however they can last longer. Symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, trouble sleeping, anxiety, decreased libido (sex drive), recurring bladder infections and a frequent need to urinate.
According to the Office on Women’s Health, hot flashes also known as hot flushes occur when the top part of the body – the neck and chest, and sometimes the entire body, are overcome with sudden feelings of heat. This can also be accompanied by red spots and a lot of sweating during the hot flashes as well as cold chills once the hot flash has ended.
In order to curb the intensity of the hot flashes, consider speaking to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy and other medication that can help to alleviate the flashes. There are also other things that you can do to avoid triggering the hot flashes. This includes drinking cool drinks and avoiding hot drinks, having cool or luke warm showers or baths, using a fan, wearing light clothing and avoiding alcohol and spicy foods. Sweating is a big part of hot flashes and can also lead to night sweats when you are sleeping, which according to the Office on Women’s Health is caused by low estrogen levels. The sweating can be so intense that it leaves your clothes and your bedding sopping wet.
During menopause, there are lower levels of progesterone, therefore you may have trouble sleeping, which is known as insomnia. This can result in irritability and fatigue during the day, finding it difficult to nap during the day in order to catch up sleep, waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep and that overwhelming feeling of fatigue after waking up in the morning.
There are several things that you can do to help curb the insomnia. These include getting regular exercise, avoiding caffeine, alcohol cigarettes and heavy meals close to bedtime, avoid watching TV or using your phone before bed as the bright lights might hinder sound sleep. Finally, consult with your doctor as insomnia can also be caused by the hot flashes which in turn can be treated with medication which will help to improve sleep.
Menopause causes vaginal changes to occur and according to Harvard Medical School, lowered levels of estrogen causes thinning of the vaginal lining and in turn vaginal secretions are reduced. Vaginal irritation and dryness also occur as the vagina itself becomes shorter and narrower. Sexual intercourse can become uncomfortable as a result of these changes. Treatment for this includes using water-based lubricants during sexual intercourse as well as vaginal moisturiser which can ensure that the vagina is well lubricated; staying away from perfumed soaps and body washes so as not to irritate the vaginal area as well as other medications and hormone therapy which your doctor can prescribe.
The Office on Women’s Health confirms that the urethra is weakened by the lowered levels of oestrogen and thus causes a more constant need to urinate as well loss of bladder control known as urinary incontinence. There is no need to feel embarrassed if you feel some urine leaking out whilst you are laughing, sneezing or coughing, this too is known as urinary stress incontinence and it can be treated.
Treatment can include taking in smaller amounts of caffeine or none at all, losing weight to avoid any extra pressure on the bladder, using sanitary pads, doing kegal exercises which help to train the pelvic floor muscles as well as using medical devices such as pessaries or a urethra cap. These can be fitted and explained in more detail by your doctor if need be.
Lowered sex drive is also a result of menopause and according to Healthline; the lowered levels of both estrogen and testosterone make it harder to get aroused. The other symptoms of menopause which have been discussed such as vaginal dryness, insomnia, mood changes and hot flashes can all lead to feeling undesirable as well discomfort during sexual intercourse and simply feeling too exhausted to have sex. Talk to your partner about your feelings and symptoms and try starting off with more foreplay such as kissing and other acts of intimacy which can in turn stimulate your sex drive. Consult with your doctor as he could help with other ways if treating the symptoms that often feel overwhelming.
Do not feel alone, embarrassed or afraid when menopause arrives, whether it is natural or due to a medical condition there are ways to curb the symptoms. Talk to your family, friends and most importantly to your partner so that they can fully understand what you are going through and how best to support you during this big change. Your doctor is there to help and guide you to using the correct methods, medications and therapies to best suit your specific needs.