The menopause is the end of menstruation, which is where your ovaries stop producing an egg every four weeks. The reduction in oestrogen causes hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings and vaginal dryness. You can improve your menopausal symptoms by making simple dietary and lifestyle changes.
- What is it?
The menopause is the end of menstruation, which is where your ovaries stop producing an egg every four weeks. You will no longer have monthly periods and you are unlikely to get pregnant. 51 is the average age in the UK for the menopause to occur, although some experience it in their 30s or 40s. If you experience the menopause before the age of 40, it is called a premature menopause.
When you reach the menopause, monthly periods can sometimes stop suddenly. However, it is more likely that your periods will become less frequent, with longer intervals between each one, before they stop altogether.
- What causes the menopause?
A change in the body’s sex hormones causes the menopause. In the lead up to the menopause (known as the perimenopause), oestrogen levels decrease, causing the ovaries to stop producing an egg each month. Oestrogen is the hormone that regulates periods. The reduction in this hormone causes hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings and vaginal dryness.
- What are the symptoms of the menopause?
- A change in the pattern of your monthly periods. At first (in the premenopausal stage) you might have light or heavy periods. The frequency of your periods could also be affected. You might have one every two or three weeks, or you might not have one for months at a time.
- Hot flushes and night sweats.
- Loss of sex drive.
- Vaginal itching, dryness, pain or discomfort during sex.
- Palpitations (heartbeats that suddenly become more noticeable).
- Mood changes such as depression, anxiety or tiredness.
- Sleep problems such as insomnia.
- Urinary tract infections.
- Should I see my GP?
If your menopausal symptoms are troubling you, you should see your GP. There is no definitive test to diagnose the menopause. A blood test is sometimes carried out to measure the level of follicle-stimulating hormone, but this only occasionally helps in managing the menopause.
If you are under 50 years of age, the menopause is diagnosed after 24 months without a period. If you are aged 50 or over, it is diagnosed after 12 months without a period.
- How is the menopause treated?
Medication isn’t always needed to treat menopausal symptoms however; many find that making simple diet and lifestyle changes can help to relieve the symptoms. Treatment may be recommended if you have severe symptoms that interfere with your everyday life.
One of the main treatments used for the menopause is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It replaces oestrogen which helps to relieve the menopausal symptoms. It is available in many forms including tablets, cream or gel, a skin patch or an implant.
Vaginal dryness can be treated using vaginal lubricants, and antidepressants are sometimes prescribed for treating hot flushes.
- How can I improve my symptoms myself?
You can improve your menopausal symptoms by making simple dietary and lifestyle changes. Eating a healthy, balanced diet and taking plenty of regular exercise can help you to avoid putting on extra weight, which can often occur during the menopause. A balanced diet that includes all of the food groups will help keep your bones strong and healthy. You can also combine strength and flexibility exercises with aerobic activities (such as walking), to help you maintain bone strength and muscle mass.You can download the fact sheet from the British Dietetic Association for tips on how to eat healthily during the menopause.