Managing the symptoms of the menopause
The menopause isn’t a health ‘problem’ or illness as such. It is a natural process that happens to almost anyone assigned female at birth as they age.
The menopause does, however, cause a wide range of symptoms that can be challenging and uncomfortable. Read our blog ‘what is the menopause?’ for more detail on what causes the menopause and the key symptoms. Mood swings, depression, vaginal dryness, low sex drive, hot flushes and sleep problems are all common symptoms. As well as directly impacting those assigned female at birth going through the menopause, some symptoms like mood swings and behaviour changes can affect the people close to them too.
Whilst you cannot prevent the menopause, the good news is that there are several ways to manage and treat symptoms. Some women will benefit from hospital treatments, prescribed medication, or mental health support. Whilst for others, simple lifestyle changes could be enough to support their mood and improve any physical discomfort. It’s important to remember that the menopause affects women in different ways – it’s not a one-size fits all approach!
Ways to treat the menopause symptoms
Mental health helplines and counselling
Stress, anxiety, depression, and mood swings are all very common symptoms of the menopause. Talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or counselling can be helpful ways to improve low mood and provide reassurance and comfort. If you’re a Benenden Health member you can access our convenient 24/7 mental health helpline whenever and wherever you need support. And once you’re eligible, you can access our short-term counselling services too.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
HRT can help some women going through the menopause by replacing the hormones that are now at lower levels. HRT can be given in different forms including oral tablets, skin patches, body gel, or a pessary. It generally helps relieve some of the most common symptoms of the menopause including hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings and reduced sex drive.
Historic research caused concerns about the use of HRT by suggesting some types could increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. However, more recent research suggests that when used appropriately, the risks of HRT causing serious health issues are low. There are several options for HRT and its delivery methods dependent upon your and your body’s needs. Therefore, it’s important to have a robust discussion with your GP first.
Physical treatments can help reduce the thinning of the vaginal tissues and the dryness associated with this (which can cause discomfort and pain during intercourse). Benenden Hospital in Kent is one of the first UK hospitals to offer MonaLisa Touch – a minimally invasive treatment that delivers laser stimulation of the vagina wall tissue to reverse the effects of ageing. Again, this is something you should seek advice from your GP about to understand the process and its implications. Alternative treatments including pessaries, creams and gels can also help reduce symptoms of dryness.
A Mirena coil can help a woman who is suffering with heavy and irregular bleeding due to the menopause. It can be used as a form of contraception for those with some ovarian function during the perimenopause. It is important to remember that during the menopause process, pregnancies can still occur so long as a woman is menstruating. The Mirena coil can also offer the progesterone part of HRT therapy.
It can be difficult for some women to approach the topic of the menopause or explain their symptoms to the GP. Our society Matron at Benenden Health, Cheryl Lythgoe, suggests having a think about the questions, in addition to doing some research, so you can get the best value from your GP experience:
How long have you been experiencing the menopause symptoms?
What kind of symptoms have you been experiencing
How are those symptoms affecting your life – personally or professionally?
How are these symptoms concerning you and what are you expecting to achieve from treating or managing them?
Some women won’t need medical treatment, but making some simple lifestyle changes can help manage milder symptoms before they get worse…
Adjusting lifestyle factors can help...
Speaking to other people who are also going through, or have recently experienced the menopause themselves, can provide a great source of comfort and reassurance. Whilst everybody’s symptoms are different and the impact on their lifestyles will vary, knowing that you’re not alone and that symptoms don’t last forever can make a huge difference.
Eat a healthy diet
Lower oestrogen levels can increase the risk of heart disease as well as osteoporosis (a disease that weakens the bones, increasing the risk of sudden fracture*). Reducing saturated fats and salt will help keep blood pressure lower, and eating calcium-rich foods like leafy greens, milk and low-fat yoghurts can help maintain stronger bones. Vitamin D from oily fish and eggs improves bone health too.
Minimising alcohol, processed sugar and caffeine can help improve heart health and reduce the likelihood of low mood or mood swings too.
Exercise and keep fit
Regular exercise can help to manage feelings of anxiety and stress. Plus, weight bearing exercises in particular can improve bone health and reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, which is a risk associated with the menopause. Keeping up a consistent routine, especially during the dark winter months, isn’t always easy!
Lack of sleep can be detrimental to your physical and mental health. Feeling irritable, depressed, forgetting things and making mistakes are all symptoms of being over-tired.
Cutting down on caffeine, especially after a certain time of the day, can help you to achieve a better night’s sleep. Try switching your phone off at a certain time or avoiding screens before bed. Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature and consider lighter bedding if you’re experiencing hot flushes. Avoid eating large meals or consuming alcohol close to bedtime and avoid napping during the day if you can. Making these changes will improve your sleep quality.
Over the counter medication such as melatonin can also help. But it’s best to speak to your GP if you feel you’re unable to manage your sleep problems. Read our blog ‘how to get a good nights sleep’ for more hints and tips on improving your quality of sleep.