How to manage the menopause
The menopause is the time of life when a woman’s periods stop. It usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, and the average age is 51.
A number of changes to hormone levels occur at this time, which can lead to symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, low mood and anxiety.
Here are tips for tackling some of the unwanted symptoms of the menopause – although don’t be afraid to see your GP if you feel that things are becoming difficult to manage.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
As oestrogen levels drop, the menopause brings an increased risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Sticking to a healthy diet that’s low in saturated fat and salt can help keep your blood pressure low. Calcium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, low-fat yogurt and milk, and vitamin D from oily fish and eggs or supplements can help to keep bones strong. Regular exercise can help reduce symptomatic anxiety and stress – and also keeps the heart healthy. Keep alcohol, caffeine and sugar to a minimum – and, as always, stop smoking, which has been shown to lead to hot flushes (as well as triggering other well-documented health-related chronic illnesses).
Although it’s been largely swept under the carpet by previous generations, there is definitely a movement towards being more open about going through the change. Counsellor Rachel Weiss started a pop-up Menopause Café in Perth, Scotland, earlier this year to get women – and men – together and chatting about this life stage over a cuppa. “My aim was to get conversations started,” says Rachel. “Although this is something that all women go through, very little is spoken about the menopause.” Rachel’s vision is that people will either start cafés of their own or just plan meet-ups in their own homes to talk about what they’re going through.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is widely used and can help to relieve the symptoms of oestrogen deficiency such as hot flushes and sleep disorders. It may be worth considering, although some people experience unwanted side effects, so it’s worth discussing with your GP. According to advice service Women’s Health Concern, complementary and alternative therapies have become a popular choice – although it warns that limited scientific research has been done to support their effect, and has a fact sheet ‘Complementary & alternative therapies’ to download from its website.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you have any concerns over the symptoms – or indeed, if you are concerned because your menopause is delayed (which can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer), it’s important to speak to your GP rather than relying on internet research, which may not be accurate. As a Benenden member you can also access the 24/7 GP Advice Service as well as the Psychological Wellbeing 24/7 helpline if you feel anxious or depressed.
How treatment may help
Some women benefit from extra help to reduce some of the physical symptoms of the menopause. Benenden Hospital in Kent is one of the first hospitals in the UK to offer MonaLisa Touch ®, which is a minimally invasive treatment that delivers laser stimulation of the vagina wall tissue to alleviate thinning of the vaginal tissues and dryness, which can make intercourse uncomfortable or even painful. For more on the treatment, see here.
Find out more
Women’s Health Concern, part of the British Menopause Society, has lots of useful factsheets and advice - www.womens-health-concern.org