Cheat Sheet

Menopause For Dummies (UK Edition)

Menopause signals the end of the reproductive phase of your life and so is a significant time of physical, emotional and mental change for many women but, for generations, women of all ages have wandered blindly into menopause without knowing what to expect. Here, you can find out some of the basics.

Menopause-Related Words and Meanings

Although this is far from being a complete list of terms that you might hear being used when the menopause is being discussed, the following five essential terms should help you to understand the basics.

  • HRT (hormone replacement therapy): A treatment to supplement the hormones you lose during menopause – generally a combination of oestrogen, progesterone, and sometimes testosterone.

  • Menopause: Technically speaking, menopause starts one year after you experienced your last menstrual period. Women whose ovaries are removed go through an immediate surgical menopause.

  • Oestrogen: This hormone is responsible for your female characteristics, such as breasts, curvy body, menstruation, and reproduction. The three types of oestrogen are: oestrone, oestradiol, and oestriol. Oestradiol, produced in the ovaries, is the most potent form of oestrogen and serves hundreds of bodily functions.

  • Perimenopause: The years before menopause when your hormones are in flux and your periods are not regular. Some women are perimenopausal for up to 10 years before their periods actually stop, but most women experience the symptoms for just four or five years.

  • Progesterone: A hormone that’s made in larger amounts after you ovulate and release an egg. Progesterone is also produced in the placenta when you’re pregnant to help prepare the uterus to nourish a fertilised egg. Synthetic forms of progesterone are called progestogens.

Symptoms that Say ‘Menopause is Coming’

For the majority of women, symptoms of menopause (which you experience because your hormones are becoming unbalanced) start appearing before periods come to a stop. Check this list, and if you find that any of these symptoms sound familiar, speak with your GP; you may be approaching menopause.

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Dry hair or skin

  • Feeling irritable

  • Frequent urination

  • Hot flushes

  • Inability to sleep, or interrupted sleep

  • Incontinence

  • Irregular periods

  • Lapses of memory

  • Mood swings

  • Rapid heartbeats (or ‘heart flutters’)

  • Vaginal dryness

The Five-Step Programme for Getting through Menopause

Some women barely realise that menopause is upon them. Other women, however, are less fortunate. If you’re one of the latter, take on board these few ways to make your experience easier on yourself:

  • Understand and accept that you’re going through a natural transition, much like puberty. Fortunately, you’re older and wiser now than you were back then and better placed to deal with all those hormonal upheavals. Also like puberty, menopause is not just a time of change with your body; it is also a time of change with your life.

  • Make sure that you have a doctor with whom you can really communicate; that means that your doctor listens to you, you listen to him or her, and that you are comfortable with and confident in taking your doctor’s advice.

  • Re-evaluate the lifestyle you have. If you continue with any bad habits you have now, your body will let you know about it far sooner than it ever did before. The need for healthy eating, frequent exercise (that means going for it at least five times a week), and enough sleep has never been so important. Maintaining a healthy weight helps you avoid a variety of serious medical conditions.

  • Ask your doctor for a regular gynaecology examination and general check-up. If you experience any symptoms – physical and mental – track and discuss these with your GP.

  • Be patient with yourself. Look for ways to relax and reduce stress. Stress makes many menopausal symptoms worse and makes your body more susceptible to disease. Unwind – take the time to do things you enjoy, whether that be visiting your pals, joining a pilates class, going for a hike, or do voluntary charity work. Spend time doing whatever makes you feel really good about yourself.

Hot Flushes and Menopause

Because many women only start thinking about menopause when they start getting hot flushes, here are a few quick tips for dealing with this menopause-related symptom:

  • Exercise frequently: One woman in 20 who exercises frequently experience hot flushes. In contrast, one woman in four who don’t exercise experiences hot flushes.

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine and limit your intake of spicy foods and hot drinks. These foods and drinks can all trigger hot flushes.

  • Aim to reduce your stress level. Upping the amount of exercise you do or taking up relaxation techniques can be effective ways to achieve this.

  • Consider what you wear. Dressing in layers enables you to peel off when you’re flushing and cover up when the flush has gone.

  • Turn on a fan or have fewer sheets over you at night to keep night sweats at bay. Or switch to a sheet with several thin blankets so that you can adjust your layers when you need to.

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