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Menopause 101

Not heard much about the menopause? Don't worry - you're not alone. Here's a quick guide to what you need to know.

What is menopause?

Menopause is when periods stop for a year and women can't get pregnant naturally. It happens as a natural consequence of age.

In general, periods will start becoming less frequent and may change in consistency in the years leading up to menopause. But sometimes they can stop suddenly.

The levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone drop as a woman approaches menopause. The ovaries will eventually stop releasing eggs, and this is what means that a woman can no longer get pregnant naturally.

It's important to note that periods can stop for a year for other reasons - such as taking some medications, anorexia and even stress. This is called secondary amenorrhea and is different to the menopause when periods stop for the rest of life. Consulting a medical professional when you have prolonged, and unexpected times without a period will help you to identify what is happening.

Menopause may signal the end of a woman's reproductive life but it absolutely does not signal the of being a woman. There's a lot to look forward to later in life too - later life just gets a lot less attention in today's society.

When can I expect menopause?

Woman typically transition through the menopause between 45 and 55. In the UK the average age for menopause is 51.

An early menopause occurs between 40 and 45 years. There's also a condition called premature ovarian insufficiency (or POI) - when menopause occurs before the age of 40.

Some surgical procedures and medical treatments may cause periods to stop for a year. This is sometimes called an induced menopause. If the ovaries are removed an induced menopause is permanent - if they are not menopause can be permanent or temporary (when your periods come back).

Family history (genetics) and your environment both affect the age at which menopause occurs.

What can I expect from menopause?

80% of women experience some symptoms in the lead up to and as they transition through menopause. Leaving a lucky 20% of women who do not [1]!

The lead up to the menopause - when women often start to experience symptoms - is called perimenopause. This time can be particularly confusing for women. Women's bodies and moods can change in perimenopause due to hormones levels bouncing around. Periods will often become irregular for the same reason.

Common symptoms of the perimenopause and menopause include[2]:

  • hot flushes (and night sweats, which are just hot flushes at night
  • vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
  • problems with sleep
  • low mood or depression
  • anxiety
  • mood swings
  • problems with memory and concentration
  • dry skin
  • hair that breaks easily
  • vaginal dryness
  • headaches

Hot flushes (and their partner in crime the night sweat) are the most common symptoms of menopause. There's actually over 40 symptoms associated with menopause. Some of them (like low mood, or headaches) are linked to lots of different conditions - which can make it hard to know exactly what's going on. Taking an assessment, or talking to your GP can help to identify whether your own symptoms are due to menopause.

While the symptoms listed are normal they can be very debilitating. If you are worried you should see your GP or other medical professional.

Where can I go to learn more about menopause?

  • NHS
  • British Menopause Society
  • Menopause Matters

These sources of information are all - in our humble opinion - excellent! If visual learning is more your thing you can also check out Jo and Ann at Positive Pause.

How can I know where I am at in menopause?

Try taking our assessment. It's an evidence based questionnaire which you can complete in under 5 minutes from your own home. Designed to help you understand where you're at, and to get the help you need.

References

1 Hillard, T. et al. (2017). Management of the menopause. 6th edn. British Menopause Society. UK.

2 National Health Services (2018). Health A-Z: Menopause. Retrieved 29 September 2019 from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/.