Knock, Knock, It’s Menopause.
Over the years, I can vaguely recall seeing the odd magazine feature about this stage of life. The illustrations certainly made it seem quite chilled: long walks in the countryside hand in hand with a good looking male while the dogs ran ahead. Of course, I never bothered to read the articles; why would I when there were short skirts to be worn and pubs/clubs to have fun in?
The menopause is a natural stage in a woman’s life, usually occurring between 45 and 55 years; oestrogen and egg production in the ovaries start to reduce which results in periods altering in frequency and duration. This can be a difficult stage because you never quite know when you’re going to be having a period. Sometimes they can appear for a day and a half or last for much longer than usual, leaving you with only about 10 days spare before they start up again. Basically, hide all your white clothes, you won’t be needing them for a while!
As your brain senses that your body’s oestrogen levels are low, it will pump out higher levels of a hormone called “follicle stimulating hormone”, aiming to crack the whip at the ovaries.
All these changes in your body may result in a variety of unwelcome symptoms such as hot flashes, bad sleep, moods, low sex drive and just while you’re at this low spot, your fair is falling out, your nails are chipping and your skin looks saggy and lined.
Whist schools are generally very good at ensuring that all children have sex education classes, puberty and periods are well known to us, I certainly don’t recall any mention of the other end of the sexual hormones rainbow: the menopause /andropause.
No surprise then that it all comes as quite a shock to most of us, often at a time when we are already struggling with the realisation that we haven’t done half of the things we set out to accomplish in our teenage years, our kids are flying the nest to University and last year’s little black dress just doesn’t fit any more.
The menopause can creep up on you so silently that it’s friends that recognise those trademark signs before you: maybe it’s that foot that needs to be outside the duvet, even in winter or maybe you start making excuses as to why you don’t want to go out anymore. For some, it’s surgically induced, as a result of removal of the uterus and / or ovaries. Whichever way, your next choice is how you want to deal with your menopause years: medical HRT or the natural route.
You can deal with it using HRT obtainable from your GP in its various forms: pills, patches or implants. You will be prescribed a mixture of oestrogen and progesterone if you still have a uterus or oestrogen only if you have had a hysterectomy. By and large, doctors are normally reluctant to prescribe HRT for longer than 5 years due to the increased risk of problems such as cancer, DVT and strokes. Once you come off the HRT, your body will have lost the medical crutch and you will experience the symptoms all over again.
A lot of women these days prefer to look at alternatives in the dietary supplement area, supported by adequate support from other essential minerals and vitamins such as Calcium, Magnesium and Vitamin D. If this is your choice, please don’t underestimate how much you can do via changes in diet and lifestyle. I don’t mean that you have to go vegetarian and completely sober, but adding more dark fruit and vegetables in your diet, trying to eat as much organic food as your purse strings can afford and exercising for around 30 minutes at least 4 to 5 times a week can make a noticeable difference.
Please remember that while your periods are going a little haywire, that you can still get pregnant. Over the years, I’ve spoken to women who have not had a period for up to 18 months and then gone back into having periods again. Babies are gorgeous, but another 20+ years of parental responsibilities may not be your cup of tea!
Perhaps the best advice I could give is to find someone you can talk to about all the issues you are going through at this stage of your life. It might be a parent or a friend or even a complete stranger, but you need someone who knows what you are going through because they have been there themselves. Don’t forget to include your family, but they only need to know the top level stuff like “I’m really tired today, I didn’t sleep well last night” rather than “omg, I couldn’t sleep a wink, I was tossing and turning and you were snoring and I just wanted to stab you”.
With current life expectancy of around 83 years for women, you’re going to be in the menopause for some 30 years, so it really is worth finding a solution that suits you!