Dr Lamah El-Sharkawi is a GP in Uplands and Mumbles Surgery and her sister
Reem El-Sharkawi is a GP Pharmacist, both are part of the Bay Cluster Network.
There has been a lot of talk in the media over the past few weeks about the menopause. In this article we will focus on a brief overview of the menopause and in future articles address potential treatments to help ease symptoms.
What is Menopause?
The menopause is when a woman stops having periods. Most women think of the menopause as being the time leading up to and after their last period, in many women periods do not just stop. Initially periods may be-come less frequent, in fact it can take several years for women to go through the menopause completely. Women are said to have gone through the menopause, (be postmenopausal) when they have not had a period for over one year.
The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usual-ly occurs between 45-55 years of age, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. The average age for the menopause is 51 years old in the UK. Around 1 in 100 women experience the menopause before the age of 40. This is known as premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency.
Symptoms of menopause
Every woman will go through the menopause. Some may not experience any symptoms, but it is common to develop one or more symptoms which are due to the dropping level of oestrogen. About 8 out of 10 women will develop menopausal symptoms at some point. Around a quarter of women have very severe symptoms.
Hot flushes occur in about 3 in 4 women. A typical hot flush (or flash) lasts a few minutes and causes flushing of your face, neck and chest. You may also sweat (perspire) during a hot flush. Some women become giddy, weak, or feel sick during a hot flush. Some women also develop a ‘thumping heart’ sensation (palpitations) and feelings of anxiety during the episode. The number of hot flushes can vary from every now and then, to fifteen or more a day. Hot flushes tend to start just before the menopause and can persist for several years.
Sweats commonly occur when you are in bed at night. In some women the sweating can be so severe that sleep is disturbed and you need to change your bedding and nightclothes.
Other symptoms may develop, such as:
- Being irritable
- Difficulty sleeping
- Aches and pains in your joints
- Loss of sex drive (libido)
Feelings of not coping as well as you used to.
Changes to your periods. The time between periods may shorten in some women around the meno-pause; in others, periods may become further apart, perhaps many months apart. It can also be common for your periods to become a little heavier around the time of the menopause; some-times periods can become very heavy.
Bodily changes after the menopause
Skin and Hair
Due to the loss of collagen after the menopause this can make skin drier and hair thinner.
Lack of oestrogen can cause the tissues around in and around the vagina to become thinner and drier. This can have an impact on sexual intercourse, may cause urinary frequency or some women suffer with recurrent urinary infections as a result of these changes.
Thinning of bones (Osteoporosis)
Women lose bone tissue following the menopause. Osteoporosis means that bones may fracture more easily.
The risk of heart disease and stroke increases following the menopause. This is again due to the decrease in oestrogen levels. Oestrogen is thought to help protect your blood vessels against fatty lumps (atheroma) developing inside them.
Menopause is usually diagnosed by symptoms alone rather than by hormone blood tests, however these can be helpful in some cases.
The symptoms of menopause can vary greatly between individuals, however treatments to help with symptoms are available.
In our next article we will focus on treatments available.