The menopause occurs when a woman’s periods stop; usually this is around the age of 50. The menopause happens as a result of decreased levels of oestrogen in the body; usually periods gradually become less regular and a woman is said to have gone through the menopause after she has gone 12 months without having a period.
Symptoms of the menopause
As well as the gradual decrease in periods, many women experience additional symptoms; these include:
- Hot flushes, sweating and night sweats: this usually affects the face, neck and chest and often involves a sudden feeling of heat, which appears to come from nowhere. Sometimes a blotchy rash will appear and the heart rate may increase rapidly.
- Sleep disturbance: women may experience disturbed sleep patterns as a result of night sweats, anxiety and stress.
- Vaginal atrophy: the term vaginal atrophy refers to a number of different conditions including dryness, discomfort and itching; this may cause pain during sex.
- Urinary issues: women going through the menopause are more prone to infections such as cystitis and UTI (urinary tract infections).
How long do the symptoms last?
Most women experience symptoms for a period of around 2 to 5 years; urinary and vaginal symptoms should be treated but most of the other symptoms will gradually subside without treatment.
Will I need HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy)?
Many women do not require any treatment during their menopause but some may find it beneficial to have HRT; you should consult your GP if you want to know more about the menopause or about HRT. Hormone replacement therapy helps to ease many of the symptoms of the menopause and is often used to prevent the development of osteoporosis; women who have gone through the menopause are more prone to osteoporosis because the oestrogen levels in the body fall, making the bones more fragile. Women who have a family history of the condition will usually be offered HRT. HRT works by restoring oestrogen levels in the body; this strengthens bones, treats urinary and vaginal infections, eases symptoms such as hot flushes and reduces the risk of colon cancer. HRT has been associated with very slight increases in the risk of suffering from breast cancer, ovarian cancer, coronary heart disease and strokes.