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Menopause

The menopause can cause a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms. The first symptom is usually a change in the pattern of your monthly periods.

The menopause can cause a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms.

The first symptom is usually a change in the pattern of your monthly periods.

The start of the menopause is known as the perimenopausal stage, during which you may have light or heavy periods (menorrhagia).

The frequency of your periods may also be affected. You may have one every two or three weeks, or you may not have one for months at a time.

Other menopausal symptoms include:

If you experience the menopause suddenly, rather than gradually, your symptoms may be worse.

Symptoms will usually last between two and five years before disappearing, although they can last longer. Vaginal symptoms, such as dryness, can sometimes persist and get worse with age.

Hot flushes and night sweats

A hot flush is a sudden feeling of heat in your upper body. It can start in your face, neck or chest, before spreading upwards and downwards.

The skin on your face, neck and chest may become red and patchy, and you may start to sweat. You may also feel a change in your heart rate. It may become very rapid, or it may be irregular and stronger than usual (palpitations).

Hot flushes that occur at night are called night sweats. Most hot flushes only last a few minutes, and they're most common in the first year after your final period.

Sleep problems

Many menopausal women have trouble sleeping because of night sweats. Sleep disturbances may also occur, as a result of anxiety.

You may find that a lack of sleep makes you irritable and that you have problems with your short-term memory and ability to concentrate.

Vaginal symptoms

During the lead up to the menopause, you may experience vaginal dryness, itching or discomfort. This can make sex difficult or painful (dyspareunia). These symptoms combined are known as vaginal atrophy.

About a third of women experience vaginal atrophy shortly after the menopause, with slightly more women having them later on. In some cases, vaginal atrophy can last for more than 10 years after your final period.

If you have vaginal symptoms, it's likely they will continue or get worse unless they are treated.

Urinary symptoms

During the menopause, you're more likely to have recurring lower UTIs, such as cystitis. You may also feel an urgent and frequent need to go to the toilet.

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Menopause

Pat found a few simple lifestyle changes made her menopause symptoms easier to manage.

Pat found a few simple lifestyle changes made her menopause symptoms easier to manage.

Pat was 44 when she realised she had started missing a few periods. “It didn’t bother me at first as I lead quite a stressful life,” she says. “But after a while, I also started getting really bad PMT when I did have a period. It was awful.”

Pat decided to keep a diary charting her periods and how she felt generally. She kept it for six months. Looking back on it, she suspected that she was starting to go through the menopause. She went to her GP and discussed the best course of action.

“My GP is a woman, so I felt comfortable discussing things with her,” she says. “At that point, I didn’t feel that I needed any medication. I just wanted information about what was happening to me and how I could manage it.”

Soon afterwards, Pat began to experience hot flushes. “They're awful,” she shudders. “Lots of women think they’re having a panic attack when they have their first one and I can see why. I certainly did. I get a feeling of intense pressure in my upper chest, then my face starts to feel like it’s on fire. Then my face and upper chest turn red. Some women also get palpitations, though luckily I don’t.

“The attacks come on at any time. I work in a shop so it’s very embarrassing when one comes on as I’m talking to a customer. Luckily, there are lots of women where I work, many of a certain age, and we all support each other.”

Pat’s currently considering whether to try hormone replacement therapy (HRT). “If my symptoms get worse, I’ll certainly give it a go,” she says. “I want to read up on it and make sure I know all my options. At the moment, however, I’ve made some small changes which make a big difference. For example, I never used to eat breakfast as I have three kids under 10 and a husband to sort out! But now I make sure I have a cereal bar at least. I have a proper lunch with brown bread to keep my blood sugar levels steady as well.”

Menopause is a fact of life, says Pat, and she’s determined to manage her condition. “I have bad days,” she admits. “It’s difficult for my husband sometimes, as well. He says he never knows whether I’m going to wake up nice or nasty. But there’s no need for women to suffer menopausal symptoms in silence, like our mothers and grandmothers did. Educate yourself and you’ll find there’s a lot of help out there.”

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