What I’ve learned about the menopause

What I’ve learned about the menopause

Things I’ve learned about the menopause

Until relatively recently, the menopause was something I’d heard of but didn’t know much about. I figured that it had something to do with periods stopping, but I hadn’t a clue when this was going to happen or what it involved.

From my own experience as a child living with a mum going through the menopause, I knew it made my mum very grumpy. My dad used to whisper ‘it’s the change’ as if that explained everything. When in reality it made no difference to my understanding at all.

I don’t remember learning anything about menopause at school.  They seemed to concentrate only on how NOT to get pregnant and so my knowledge of menopause was sketchy to say the least!

My mum tried giving me a book about the menopause when I was in my early thirties, she’d realised that by the time I was of the age to have the menopause she wouldn’t be here and she wanted to offer her support. At the time I thought she was slightly mad, but now I appreciate the love that she showed me in that gesture. So as I headed towards 50, I realised that menopause might be looming, but it was still a very abstract concept. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

When will the menopause happen? How would I know? What can I expect?

My head was full of questions. When was menopause going to happen? How would I know when I was starting the menopause, what should I expect? Did it mean that I’m going to be permenantly grumpy too? (I asked my children this, they said I always am anyway which I thought was charming!)

I’ve learned that the average age for a woman’s periods to stop is around age 51/52 in the UK. Menopause is where periods have ceased for 12 consecutive months. So far so good. Periods stop, I can manage that!

Then I read on further. It seemed that there were many, many symptoms associated with the menopause and the transitition phase in the run up to periods stopping. This transition phase is known as the perimenopause.

All manner of delightful things can happen in perimenopause from loss of libido, stress incontinence, vaginal dryness, to mood swings, anxiety, low mood, loss of bone mass, irritability, hot flashes, night sweats, you name it! I started to quiver a little. One article I found listed 34 different symptoms of menopause! 34! And to make the whole thing worse, it could last for years!

It reminded me of the time when my mum had explained what periods were and when she’d told me that they lasted around a week. I could cope for a week. Then she dropped the bombshell that it wasn’t a single, one-off once in a lifetime week, it was one week out of every four, for approximately the next 35+ years. I can still feel that feeling of complete horror at the very thought. And now I’m having to face the reverse of all this. 

Fortunately I soon found out that it doesn’t always last for years and some women are lucky enough to experience little or no symptoms other than the gradual ceasing of their period cycle. Phew!

How do I know if I’m experiencing the perimenopause?

Often one of the first signs is a change in your cycle, it could become longer or shorter, or heavier or lighter than usual. You might notice some of the other symptoms, experience hot flashes or night sweats. Digestive issues can also appear (although it’s always very important to get any digestive discomfort, bloating, cramping or changes in stools checked by your GP, just in case) 

Anyway once I’d stopped quivering at the thought of all these potential symptoms I decided to see if anything could be done to help with them. Or was I supposed to just lie there, in a grumpy heap, feeling everything shrink back and pack itself away?

yoga

What can I do to help myself during the perimenopause or menopause?

Fortunately the more I read the more I found that things like having a good, balanced, nutrient rich diet (and keeping out of the way of sugar) can help massively, as can exercise. Now after being traumatised by school P.E lessons, I am still a little nervous around the idea of exercise but it sounds like the nicer sorts of exercise can be helpful. Like Yoga and Pilates. Both are great for building strength and for calming anxiety and boosting low mood. Pilates can be particularly helpful for alleviating stress incontinence. 

relaxation

Keeping stress under control is also a key factor during the perimenopause and menopause. Unfortunately this time can also coincide with having to hold down a job, juggle child care responsibilities, cope with elderly parents, as well as be a partner and friend. So this time can naturally be stressful, especially if you never get any time to yourself. Making a conscious effort to release stress (or actively avoid stress where possible) and to build into your lifestyle pockets of time where possible to relax and unwind, of taking any opportunity you might get to nourish yourself and your soul can make all the difference.

Even if it’s taking 5 minutes a day to do absolutely nothing (or to meditate, or to just sit in the garden with a cup of tea, or to stand in the shower and let water cascade over you) As a qualified Reflexologist and Massage Therapist my go-tos for destressing are Reflexology and Massage (especially if used in conjunction with essential oils) but we’re all different. Some of my friends have recently taken up wild-swimming and find that totally relaxes them. Find what works for you and make sure you pencil it into your own diary with the same fervour as if it was a work based appointment or a meeting with a friend!

 

Resources

Check out my article What is Menopause for more information of some of the more common symptoms

NHS article on Menopause

Read my article on Simple ways to Keep Active to help you effortlessly slot exercise into your day

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Please Tell me your story!

I’d love to hear YOUR experience of the perimenopause/ menopause. What symptoms have you experienced (if any) and what has helped you? If you’d be open to having an honest (completely confidential conversation) with me about your menopause please email info@sarahcooper.co.uk 

What is menopause?

What is menopause?

What is Menopause?

There is a lot of talk about the menopause but what actually is it? The menopause is where the ovaries cease to release and egg every month and then periods stop permenantly. Once a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months without any other logical reason such as surgery, medical intervention etc, she is said to have reached the menopause. 

What age does menopause occur?

The average age for women to reach menopause in the UK is 51 years old but the transition towrds menopause or perimenopause may start from 45-55 years. If a woman reaches menopause before she is 45 this is considered to be early menopause. If she reaches menopause before she is 40 this is known as premature menopause. 

Perimenopause or the transition period before the menopause

Before periods stop completely there is usually a period of transition where the body starts to make the necessary changes to the body. This transition period, known as the perimenopuase, can last anywhere from a few months to ten years but in many cases lasts around 4 years.

Symptoms of the perimenopause and the menopause

These can vary in severity with some people finding them more difficult to deal with than others

Symptoms of the menopause can include

  • Periods may become lighter or heavier with a change in cycle length during the perimenopausal phase
  • Hot Flushes/Hot Flashes
  • Headaches
  • Palpitations
  • Night sweats
  • Lapses in concentration and memory
  • Nausea
  • Weight Gain
  • Changes in mood including irritability, depression or low mood and mood swings
  • Dryness of the vagina, eyes, mouth and skin
  • Worsening symptoms of PMT
  • Vaginal pain
  • Painful intercourse
  • Loss of libido
  • Breast tenderness
  • Anxiety
  • Joint stiffness, 
  • Aches and Pains
  • Urine leakage when sneezing

Ways of easing the symptoms of Perimenopause/ Menopause

Lifestyle changes can be key to coping with the symptoms of permenopause/ menopause

  •  Take regular exercise and eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains 
  • Wearing light bedclothes can be helpful for night sweats
  • Cooling facial sprays can help hot flushes
  • Wear a supportive bra to help ease breast tenderness 
  • Keep well hydrated
  • For skin dryness use a good quality moisturiser or serum and sweep it in upwards movements towards your forehead
  • Pilates is good for strengthening the core muscles and helpful for your pelvic floor and urine leakage issues
  • For smokers going on a smoking cessation programme can help. Most GP practices have a smoking cessation programme available and those who don’t should be able to signpost you in the right direction
  • Get a good bedtime routine in place. It can be useful to have a little notebook by the bed for any ideas and thoughts you might have buzzing round your head just as you’re trying to get to sleep.
  • Put out everything you need for tomorrow before you go to bed to help ease your stress levels in the morning
  • Try to have a warm bath before bed. Keep the bedroom temperature cool and try having the window open slightly to help keep the room cool
  • If you are suffering from anxiety try cutting back on sugar and caffeine
  • Surround yourself with supportive people who you can be your authentic self with and who you can have a laugh with. Meet regularly if you can
  • Have a regular massage, reiki or reflexology treatment to support you and to help lower your stress levels. Book it into the diary in advance so that you know that your ‘me time’ is coming up
  • Cut back on unnecssary stress, say no to anything that you don’t need to do and that you’d rather not do
  • Be gentle on yourself whenever you can

The Perimenopause and Menopause – When to see your GP

Some people manage their symptoms well or find that their symptoms are not very severe and can be managed at home with lifestyle changes and support from friends and family but if you’re not coping go see your GP

Go see your GP if..

  • You find that you’re struggling don’t hesitate to see your GP. Thery may be able to prescribe you some Hormone Replacement Therapy or other medication to help you manage your symptoms. If your mood is low you they may prescribe you with anti-depressants or offer you Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • You have symptoms of the menopause and are under 40 years of age and not pregnant. There are blood tests they can run to see what is happening
  • You are bleeding during or after sex or have any other worries about your health
  • Your periods are so heavy that you are soaking through tampons or pads more than every 1-2 hours or so. 

Can I still get pregnant during the perimenopause?

Yes it is possible to get pregnant whilst your body is still ovulating, although fertility does start to decline as you get older. Unless you are trying to conceive it is important to use contraception until you have been period free for 12 consecutive months

Your GP or Family Planning clinic will be able to help advise you on the best choice of contraception for your needs.

 

What is menopause

Over to you

How are you finding perimenopause or menopause? What do you find helps your symptoms? Do you have any advice for anyone starting their menopause journey? Please let me know in the comments below. 

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