Conventional wisdom is that we all know what to expect from menopause, but the reality is that the signs and symptoms can vary dramatically. Only about 75% of women suffer symptoms, so you might even get off scott-free. But you might also find that while all you had expected was hot flashes, you don’t get them; instead your contact lenses could get sticky and give you constant problems.
Of course, the first and most obvious sign is that periods become irregular. You might have been on a strict 28 day cycle since you were 17, and all of a sudden you never know where you are. Your period might arrive unannounced and unexpectedly, or not at all. And while you might think you are too young to be heading for menopause, it is normal to see the first signs from as early as 40. (So if you are 45 and you’ve just skipped two periods, it’s quite possible that you are not pregnant.) But if you’ve had a hysterectomy but kept your ovaries, you won’t exactly be able to use this as a marker – since you wouldn’t have had periods anyway.
Let’s be specific for a minute. Medically, the term menopause refers to the time when you are finished with all the symptoms. When it has been a full year since your last period and you are no longer bothered by the uncomfortable symptoms of oestrogen rushes. Basically, when you hit menopause, things get simpler.
But what we colloquially refer to as menopause is more correctly called peri-menopause. And this is the problem. This is the time when your hormones are in flux; your ovaries begin to slow down and produce hormones on an ad hoc basis, up one minute and down the next. Seems when the ovaries haven’t produced enough oestrogen in a while, the brain wakes up and sends a panicked message: Hey, we need oestrogen, now! The ovaries leap into action and the oestrogen surges, causing hot flashes and a list of other equally unappealing problems. Then just as suddenly, the ovaries go back to sleep and the moment passes. And you might even have a sudden chill as the oestrogen subsides. Fabulous!
Hot flashes can last as long as 30 minutes, which is a long time if you are red-faced and sweating profusely while trying to maintain your equilibrium. And there’s nothing quite like a hot flash to take your mind off your train of thought in a client meeting or yelling at a wayward teenager. (Oh well, at least someone might benefit.)
Fatigue is a classic symptom of menopause. But since we’re often busy and under pressure, we often don’t recognise this as a menopausal issue. Don’t we almost expect to be tired? And when you’re tired, you probably expect to be a little grumpy or fragile from time to time so you may not consider it a “mood swing”. And if you have night sweats that wake you up at night or suffer from insomnia, it’s no surprise if you are exhausted. And if that’s not bad enough, you’re likely to put on weight, particularly around your waistline.
You’ll probably notice the prune effect: the way your hair and your skin are suddenly dry, and your favourite moisturiser just doesn’t seem right any more. Of course, it’s not just your hair and skin that is drying out. Back to the gooey contact lenses – even the moisture in your eyes can dry out. It can also make you react badly to the odd glass of wine. And since dehydration is a well recognised cause of headaches, they can appear too.
Needless to say, this problem extends to vaginal dryness too. Add that to being tired and it’s hardly surprising if your libido goes into recess.
In a dream world, we cope with everything that life throws us, and your lifestyle can make the difference. Firstly, eliminate all your bad dietary habits. Avoid caffeine. So cut out the coffee and chocolate, even tea and move to rooibos or another herbal tea instead.
Cut out curries, chillies and all spicy foods, and eliminate processed starches like pasta, white bread, biscuits and cakes. Then give up alcohol, and if you smoke, stop now. (And if tiredness and raging hormones weren’t making you miserable, this might just do the trick!)
Lastly take up some kind of exercise. While most people need about 15 minutes of exercise a day, or half an hour every second you, women in menopause should exercise for 45 minutes a day, five days a week.
Stress adds to the severity of the symptoms, so try to avoid stress. Easier said than done, but give it a try. But the reality is that sometimes we need a little help.
Hormone therapy is effective, but there is no doubt that it can have severe side effects and that there are risks attached. So if you opt for HRT, make sure your doctor does a full family history to establish your specific risk profile.
You can also try natural remedies. Take a look at the MenoClove range which helps to balance your hormones and is easily available without prescription. Containing only natural ingredients, it helps to get your body back in balance. MenoClove includes red clover (a source of phyto-oestrogen) and black cohosh, both of which have been shown to alleviate symptoms including hot flushes and night sweats. There is also a Day/Night version of which helps you get a good night’s rest and boost energy and vitality during the day.
Finally, don’t ignore your bones! Menopause and osteoporosis are closely linked because as your oestrogen production reduces, your body’s ability to absorb calcium is limited, leading to reduced bone density and weakened bones. And since osteoporosis is responsible for broken bones and the stooped posture you see in so many elderly ladies, you definitely want to take steps to prevent it. Take a good calcium supplement every single day and do some weight-bearing exercise. In fact, don’t wait for menopause to begin to start taking calcium.