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There are various medically-related milestones we can reach in our lives as women, such as starting our periods, losing our virginity, and having babies. On the whole, these experiences - relatively dependant on the levels of pain felt according to the individual, of course! – can be wonderful, and we can look back and recollect these moments that will stay with us for years to come.
The menopause, however, is not necessarily looked upon with the same regard. For many women, it is a milestone they come to fear as middle age sets in, unsure what to expect and with the view that life as they know it may as well be over. To a point, the latter holds truth; the body must adapt to the changes which will, inevitably, take effect. Yes, the chances of becoming pregnant are significantly less, menstruation will be a thing of the past, and symptoms of female ageing process will begin; there will be noticeable differences.
But, who says that life can’t go on as normally as possible? The menopause, or ‘the change’ as it is affectionately known, does not imply a complete overhaul of our existence. If suitable arrangements are made to accommodate it, then there is no reason as to why women can’t look forward to and experience a healthy and happy future.
What’s going on?
The menopause signals the end of menstruation, whereby oestrogen levels decrease and eggs are no longer produced. The period of time before menopause is diagnosed is known as the peri-menopause, and is an indicator that change is coming, with the onset of various symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats. The gradual ending of your periods leads to diagnosis, usually up to one year after menstrual bleeding has stopped.
According to NHS figures, the average age at which a woman reaches the menopause is 52. Though it is uncommon to reach it earlier than mid to late 40s, there is a small percentage of women who do (premature menopause).
Considering that eight in ten women experience symptoms, (almost half of which suffer difficulties) it might be surprising that only one in ten visit their GP for advice and treatment. There are many women who manage the menopausal stage of their life perfectly well, without any help ; yet, there are those who require medical aid to treat the severity of these effects (see Treatments).
There are occasions where we are able to predict things to come – a useful tool where appropriate. Though it is not known for sure why the menopause can come early, research is being made into the understanding of genes in relation to the onset of ‘the change’ and whether these can be identified.
Until such knowledge is determined, there are ways to check if the menopause is on its way, such as by rapid diagnostic testing which would typically involve taking a sample and finding out the result there and then. Though it might not be comprehensive, it could be a useful indicator of the perimenopause, prepping you for changes ahead.
And whilst premature menopause may be frequently seen as nothing less than a disaster, there is the advantage that those affected face considerably less risk of conducting breast cancer (the risk of which is said to dependent on the levels of oestrogen in the body). That could never be a bad thing.
Some women can handle the menopause with the activities typically associated with living healthily: exercising and resting where appropriate; keeping the bedroom cool to encourage uninterrupted sleep; having a routine; taking the odd vitamin. Others, however, will need something a little stronger.
Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT)
• HRT can be used to treat most symptoms experienced, and replaces the oestrogen lost through the changes. Extensive use is not recommended, the ideal usage period being up to five years. Any longer, and there may be risks to your health. Always check with your GP.
• Vaginal dryness, as a result of the menopause, can great affect your sex life and libido may be at a low. Your doctor can prescribe lubricant to ease discomfort.
• Often prescribed for the treatment of hot flushes.
For more treatments and information on the menopause, see NHS advice.Alternative or complementary therapies may hold appeal due to their ‘natural’ properties, but there is little evidence to show their effectiveness. With the possibility of side effects and interference with other medication, both vague due to lack of medical knowledge, the risk of taking these treatments is considerable. Visit your doctor for professional advice.
Reaching the menopause is a big milestone in the life of a woman, but that doesn’t mean you should stop living life to its fullest – how you wish to live it. As American feminist, author and activist, Gloria Steinem, observed, “what we lose in those menopausal years is everything we needed to support another person. What we keep is everything we need to support ourselves.”
The menopause – maybe it’s not so bad after all.