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Menopause And What To Expect

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Menopause – what to expect

Menopause is a natural stage in a woman’s life that’s simply a part of the ageing process. While reaching the menopause officially marks the time when a woman’s periods have stopped and her ovaries are no longer able to produce eggs, there is a stage that women have to navigate beforehand.

How it starts – perimenopause

Perimenopause marks the point when a woman starts to experience symptoms before her periods stop. The perimenopause stage typically lasts for five years but it can continue for up to 10 years. One of the most common symptoms women experience is a disruption or change in their menstrual cycle. They may find that their periods gradually become less frequent over a few months or several years before they stop altogether. Menstrual cycle fluctuation where your periods are either longer, shorter, heavier, lighter or aren’t quite as regular as they used to be typically starts in your 40s.

There is a big range of symptoms that you can experience. Although these might start in perimenopause, they can carry on after your periods have stopped (when you’re officially in menopause). They can also vary in terms of how they affect you. While some women can have a relatively easy perimenopause to menopause journey, others will have a very hard time managing their symptoms.

Perimenopause and menopause symptoms can have a huge impact on a woman’s quality of life, affecting their general health, lifestyle, their relationships and work.

Menopausal symptoms

Below is a list of the most common menopausal symptoms:

  • Changes in your menstrual cycle
  • Hot flushes and night sweats
  • Headaches or dizziness
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Problems with memory or concentration
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Weight gain

You may also experience menopausal symptoms that aren’t listed above such as bloating, heart palpitations, brain fog, worsening PMS, joint pain, bladder issues, hair loss, and skin changes such as the onset of acne or your skin could start to become dry, oily or itchy.

Menopausal symptoms can continue for around four years following your last period. Any combination of these symptoms can begin months or even years before your periods stop. Symptoms generally last for around four years following your last period. But they can sometimes continue for longer.

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Reaching the menopause

You officially reach the menopause when you haven’t had a period for 12 months. Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 as a result of the decline in a woman’s oestrogen levels. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause stage is 51.

As menopause marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle, it also signals the end of a woman’s fertility. This means a woman’s ability to conceive naturally is over. When your body is at the menopause stage, your ovaries will no longer be able to make oestrogen and progesterone, two of the key fertility hormones.

Once you haven’t had a period for 12 months or longer, you are classed as being postmenopausal. The good news is that many women find that their symptoms gradually ease once they are at this stage.

Is there a test for menopause?

One of the key signs to look out for is changes to your menstrual cycle. Keeping track of your periods can help you to identify gaps in your cycle and how many months it’s been from one period to the next as they gradually become more and more irregular. Menopause is largely diagnosed based on your symptoms, especially when you have obvious changes to your periods.

Although not regularly used within the NHS as a diagnostic for perimenopause or menopause, you can have a private health check to assess your levels of key female hormones. These can be useful if you are concerned about your symptoms but aren’t sure they are related to the menopause.

A finger-prick blood test can measure your menopausal status via biomarkers including follicle-stimulating (FSH) hormone, luteinising hormone, prolactin and oestrogen (oestradiol). Some tests will also look at your testosterone levels which can drop severely as a result of the perimenopause and menopause.

A female hormone profile test can also be useful for women who are concerned about their fertility as it can help to identify deficiencies or hormone imbalances that may be contributing to minor issues or concerns that you may have.

In addition, for women who know they are perimenopausal or menopausal based on their symptoms, a blood test can help to provide insight on their hormone levels as they progress through their menopause journey. You may also find having a blood test is useful to help with monitoring your progress when taking health supplements or hormone replacement therapy treatments to manage your symptoms.