IS IT MENOPAUSE?
If you've noticed your periods are becoming irregular or you have suddenly experienced your first hot flush, then you might be wondering if they're signs or symptoms of menopause rearing their heads and if they are signs of menopause, what else is in store for you over the next few months or even years and how you can know for sure?
You can always ask your GP to run blood tests, but if you're looking for answers now, then we've broken down some of the key aspects of menopause so you can know for sure... is it menopause?
WHAT TO EXPECT?
No two women will have the exact same menopause journey and it will be different for everyone, but there are some common symptoms that you can look out for that will give you an idea if this is the start of your menopause journey.
Knowing the signs and symptoms and being mentally prepared for what is to come can help you feel more in control of the changes that are going on within your body.
THE SIGNS TO LOOK OUT FOR
When you first begin to experience symptoms that are common during menopause, it is important to speak to your doctor. They will ask questions about your age, the types of symptoms you are experiencing, and your family history to figure out if it really is the menopausal transition causing your symptoms.
In some cases, your doctor may also suggest a blood test to check your hormone levels to rule out any other causes for the symptoms you are experiencing.
Menopause can also be brought on early by a hysterectomy or other surgery to remove the ovaries. If you have surgery to remove your uterus or ovaries and are not taking hormones, you will experience symptoms of menopause also immediately.
Following premenopause and menopause, women enter post-menopause. Postmenopausal women can be more vulnerable to other conditions like heart disease and osteoporosis, which is why during this time, it is important to maintain a healthy diet, exercise, and make sure you get enough calcium for optimal bone health.
WHEN DOES MENOPAUSE HAPPEN?
Confusingly, the menopausal transition or 'pre-menopause is usually just referred to as 'the menopause'. However, this isn't quite accurate. Real menopause doesn't occur until one full year after your last ever period. This is why your doctor will probably recommend that you continue to use some sort of birth control for at least 12 months after your last period.
Menopause is a specific point in time around a full year after a woman's last period. The period leading up to that point, when a woman begins to experience changes in her period, or starts to notice other symptoms like hot flashes or fatigue, is called the 'menopausal transition' or 'perimenopause'.
The menopausal transition usually begins around the ages of 45 and 55 and lasts around seven years but can, unfortunately, be as long as 14 years for some women. The duration depends on the lifestyle factors of the w, such as whether she is a smoker, the age at menopause begins, and also race and ethnicity.
During perimenopause, your body's production of estrogen and progesterone, the two hormones made by the ovaries, can take dips.
This menopausal transition affects every woman in their own way and in various ways. Your body will begin to use energy differently; your fat cells will change, and, unfortunately, you may gain weight more quickly. You might also experience changes in your bone or heart health and energy levels.
EARLY SIGNS OF MENOPAUSE
Everyone experiences menopause differently. Some people may go through it without experiencing any symptoms. Other people may, unfortunately, get many. This is because fluctuating levels of oestrogen affect everyone in different ways.
You may have noticed that you and your friends get slightly different PMS symptoms, varying levels of bleeding, cramps and mood swings... menopause is the same.
Some women don’t require help managing their symptoms, while others may need more support.
Here are some of the first signs you may notice:
An undeniable sign that your body is beginning to prepare itself for menopause is irregular periods. This happens because the natural decline in oestrogen in your body means your ovaries stop releasing an egg every month, or if you've had very regular periods, they may start to vary when they release an egg every month.
Other changes to your period may include:
- Heavier or lighter bleeding
- Missed periods
- Getting periods at irregular intervals
This is probably the most notorious of all the menopause symptoms, and Loose Women favourite Andrea McLean’s recently spoken publicly about her use of Natural menopause supplements to aid her hot flushes and called it a ‘game changer’.
A hot flash is the sudden feeling of heat in the top half of your body, which is usually at its most intense over your face, neck and chest.
Your skin may redden as if you're blushing and can also cause sweating.
It does this by stimulating the body’s endocannabinoid system. This helps keep all the body systems balanced and working together - including temperature control!
Sleeplessness or insomnia during menopause is usually caused by hot flashes, which can come on at any point of the day or at night. Night-time hot flashes are often paired with unexpected awakenings.
During this stage of life, some women also develop sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea, which may come from a dip in hormones like estrogen and progesterone.
Mood Swings: Anxiety & Depression
It is totally normal and quite common to experience feelings of anxiety and low mood during menopause. There are a lot of changes happening in your body during this time, some of which can be disheartening and confusing.
Experiencing symptoms like night sweats and hot flashes can make women understandably feel anxious; combined with a lack of sleep, all of this can make even the most ordinary situations harder to deal with.
Studies have also shown that menopause can increase the chance that a woman experiences a panic attack, even if this is something that has never happened to her before. Unfortunately, women who have experienced anxiety before menopause tend to have a heightened experience of it during menopause.
Headaches and migraines
Migraines and headaches are closely linked to female hormone levels, which is one of the main reasons why women are three times more likely to get migraines than men.
During menopause, a drop in the female hormone, oestrogen, can set off a new wave of migraines.
As we've mentioned before, as you get closer to menopause, your hormone levels can dip up and down. If your usual migraines are linked to your period, they could then become as unpredictable as your periods during this time.
Body aches and muscle pains
If you begin to get body aches and muscle pains or stiffness during menopause, oestrogen is probably the culprit. Oestrogen impacts your cartilage as well as the replacement of bone and so plays a part in inflammation and pain.
In one recent survey, joint aches were experienced by almost 40% of women aged between 45 and 65.
Speak to a doctor
Follow up with a doctor if you start to experience menopausal signs and symptoms as sometimes, they can also indicate an underlying health problem.
It's also just good practice to keep your GP up-to-date with your health.
TREATING MENOPAUSE SYMPTOMS: WHATS RIGHT FOR ME?
Deciding how you want to manage your menopause journey is a very personal decision, but it is one that can also be confusing. Discuss your symptoms, family and medical history, and preferences with your GP and those you feel close to.
Every woman’s menopause journey is different; every woman will have their own experience of menopause and a differing range of symptoms. If you’re lucky, you may go through this period in your life with little to no symptoms however, others may really suffer, experiencing all the symptoms for quite some time.
This coupled with the fact there h been huge access and shortage issues, there’s been a considerable shift away from the traditional HRT treatments that many women have been prescribed for decades to deal with menopause symptoms.
There are some positives, though, this ‘menopause awakening’ has triggered a wave of new menopause products and services specially designed to help ease the transition during menopause and help manage the symptoms.
And with so women now more conscious than ever of their own health, many of these products and services are taking a much more natural and holistic approach to female health including the use of Natural menopause supplements, which is thought to help improve many, or even most, of the most common menopause signs.