Are you feeling in the dark about what to expect with the menopause? Find out what it's all about here.
For a long time, menopause was viewed with dread, often associated with ageing, and feeling less attractive, but things are starting to change! More and more people, including celebrities like Davina McCall, are openly talking about this natural stage in every woman's life and seeing it as a source of empowerment and a meaningful transition.
But, many women are still unsure of what to expect when it comes to dealing with menopause. So, if you’re wondering what is menopause, then this guide has everything you need to know.
On average, perimenopause lasts for around four years, although it can go on for up to 12 years for some women.2 You’ll likely begin to notice signs of perimenopause in your forties or even your thirties – only 10% of women report that their periods stop suddenly, with no noticeable changes in their cycles beforehand.3 The menopause usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55, while the average age that periods stop in the UK is 51.4
It’s because your ovaries’ supply of follicles – needed to make eggs – starts running out.
This starts a cascade of effects: your ovaries become less able to respond to reproductive hormones, like follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which means they then stop making oestrogen and progesterone. These are the hormones that regulate menstruation and are needed for fertility, and it’s the lack of these that causes those classic menopause symptoms.5 Sometimes, there can be other causes of menopause too, like certain cancer treatments.
OK, that’s the physical reasons that trigger menopause, but why do women actually go through it?
One theory is that it’s an evolutionary throwback, giving women a chance to care for their grandchildren, pass on their knowledge, and safeguard the next generation of their genes.6
Not every woman has significant signs and you may find you barely notice the transition.7
If you do find that you're experiencing signs of menopause that are affecting your daily routine, you should head to your GP, who will be able to tell you if you are in the menopause, what stage you’re at and if you might need any tests.
Here are the most common signs of menopause and how to tackle them:
A persistent change of seven days or more in the length of your cycle – making it shorter or longer – can indicate you’re in early perimenopause. A stretch of 60 days or more between periods usually happens later in perimenopause. Menstrual changes are caused by ovulation becoming unpredictable as your supply of eggs dwindles.3
What you can do: this is a normal part of the menopause transition, but see your GP if periods are troublesome – if they’re particularly heavy, for example.
What you can do:
What you can do: self-help measures can ease low moods and anxiety, including yoga, meditation, and regular exercise. Speak to your GP about a course in CBT too. HRT may be useful,9 but antidepressants are not recommended as there’s no evidence that they work for low mood associated with menopause. However, some women find herbal remedies, such as St John’s wort or valerian, as a natural menopause relief as they may help low moods or anxiety during the menopause.
After menopause, a lack of oestrogen means you’re more susceptible to developing osteoporosis and heart disease. You may also find you gain weight, and your skin starts to become dryer. You can support your bone health by upping your calcium and vitamin D intake – the government recommends all post-menopausal women take 10mcg a day – while omega-3 can contribute to the normal function of the cardiovascular system and vitamin C can support your skin.
It may sound like a lot to deal with, but every woman’s experience of going through menopause is different. Some sail through it, while others are floored by their symptoms – either way, it’s a sign that an exciting new chapter in your life has started. And don’t forget you’re in good company!
Written by Charlotte Haigh on December 29, 2018, Reviewed by Dr Louise Newson on January 6, 2019