Back to basics: let’s talk about the menopause
What is the menopause?
The menopause is a natural part of getting older for women. The menopause signals the end of ovulation as a result of a declining level of oestrogen in a woman’s system.
It’s sometimes euphemistically called ‘the change of life’ and its most distinct feature is the ending of a woman’s monthly period. After around one year of menstruation ceasing, women are said to be post-menopausal.
The menopause may occur at other times in a woman’s life, due to surgical removal of the ovaries, some conditions such as Down Syndrome, enzyme deficiencies or treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
When does the menopause happen?
According to the HSE, the average age for women to reach the menopause is 52. But of course, the nature of averages means many women will fall either side of this age. The age at which your mother went through menopause may give some indication at what age you will go through it.
Menopause at any age under 45 is known as early menopause. Roughly 1 in 100 women experience the onset of menopause before the age of 40.
What exactly happens during the menopause?
There are a range of physical and emotional symptoms that can accompany the menopause. The most common symptoms include:
- Hot flashes or flushes
- Night sweats (hot flashes at night time)
- Reduced libido
- Discomfort or dryness during sex
- Becoming more prone to urinary tract infections or cystitis
- Anxiety or changes in mood such as low mood
- Concentration or memory issues
- Joint pains
- Inability to sleep
The duration, onset time and severity of these symptoms will vary from woman to woman. There is no indication that the severity of a mother’s menopausal symptoms will have any bearings on her daughter’s experience, unlike onset time.
Can symptoms of the menopause be treated?
Many women reach the menopause without a need for help from their GP, but if you experience severe menopausal symptoms that interfere with your lifestyle, there are options available to you.
- HRT – hormone replacement therapy. Patches, tablets, implants etc that replace the declining oestrogen to offset symptoms
- Lubricants and creams for vaginal dryness or discomfort
- CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy. A type of counselling that can focus on the low mood and anxiety that may accompany menopause
Lifestyle choices such as a good diet and regular aerobic exercise can also help the mood and sleep disturbances associated with menopause.
Chat to your GP if you are concerned about any symptoms of the menopause or think you may be experiencing early menopause. Blood tests can be carried out to confirm whether or not this is the case.
Looking to read more about fertility or family health topics? Click here.