Ah ‘menopause never really affected me’ my Mum says. Well thank the goddess for that I should sail through this too! For me this was one of the biggest rollercoasters that I have faced in my life. But why and what is it?
In the UK, the average age menopause begins is 51 and an estimated 1·5 million women are affected by symptoms. When women talk about going through the menopause, they’re actually describing the perimenopause,” explains Dr Marilyn Glenville, a nutritionist specialising in women’s health*.
The menopause is when your periods stop completely and you become infertile, while the perimenopause is the time running up to this. “Many women will start to experience hormonal changes from around 40, but some may notice subtle changes from their mid-30s onwards,” adds Dr Glenville. This means some women may be suffering with these symptoms for over a decade before the real thing kicks in.
The most common symptoms are
- Sleep disturbance
- Anxiety with no discerning cause
- Inability to concentration
- Mood swings
- Menstrual irregularities, e.g. changes in cycle length (shorter or longer), and bleeding more or less
- Less vaginal lubrication and lower sex drive
- Dry skin, hair and nails
- Some hot flushes or night sweats
- Heart palpitations
Just seeing the symptoms list does not really give you a sense of what it is like to go through it. In reality nights are spent for some, waking on the hour every hour pulling covers off then on. So in the morning instead of waking refreshed they are ‘tired, sweaty and snappy. As the sleep deprivation continues the moods sink lower.
According to a leading professor ‘ Prof Russell Foster, a neuroscientist from the University of Oxford, ‘lack of sleep is damaging the health of the nation, with too many trying to function with brain skills so damaged they could be drunk.’
The neuroscientist raised concern that sleep deprivation could cause risks not just in jobs such as healthcare and transport, where dangers were obvious, but also could damage the quality of crucial decisions.
And that is just the sleep, along with that women may experience symptoms such as depression, mood swings and forgetfulness. For me, I felt like an alien has been beamed me out and as alien had beamed in! For many women the change can also put stress on their relationships because of the mod swings and depression.
The menopause also sets in when women are historically going through a time of asking questions about their lives such as
- My kids are grown up what am I going to do with my life?
- Where do I go from here?
- I am grandparent or becoming a grandparent how does that feel?
- Shall I change my career, study or just go part time? Can I still study?
- Looking at regrets, if I only I had been …
- Am I still attractive…
So what information and support is there for menopausal women?
On November 12 2015, the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published its first clinical guideline for diagnosis and management of menopause. The guideline “aims to provide doctors with the most up-to-date evidence from systematic reviews and synthesis of the literature, and provide women with the information to be part of the decision-making process”, according to Mary Ann Lumsden, chair of the guideline development group.
“This guideline is a milestone for both health-care professionals and women and will help ensure that the best possible care is provided in the diagnosis and treatment of menopause”, says David Richmond, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
How has it taken so long for guidelines to be produced when it affects 1.5 million women?
There are websites which have factual information such as the NHS Choices and the National Institute for Clinical Evidence gives informed evidence based information about the symptoms and what treatments are available and how to manage your symptoms .
Before I personally took the HRT route I decided to explore alternative treatments, did some research and tried herbal medicine and reflexology. The herbalist prescribed me a tonic which contained St Johns wort, Sage and some other herbs which really helped with the hot flushes and mood swings. I know that for many women Sage and Black Cohosh has been a lifesaver.
When the night sweats started to kick in this really didn’t help and even though I went back and had a new tonic for me the symptoms were so severe I was depressed, tired, anxious and sleep deprived. I did research acupuncture, chinese medicine and reflexology as an option but decided to seek medical help as my symptoms were so severe that I was unable to function on a daily basis. Also for many women the cost is a factor when considering alternative treatments. A course of acupunture and chinese medicine can cost around £50 per week and they advise you have it weekly for two months. I know ‘ What price is there for good health? “ but for many women income is low and they would rather spend the money on others than for themselves.
In November 2015 the NICE guidance was published, so now I had some evidence based information to base my decision on. My GP was great and suggested antidepressants and signed me off for two weeks with ‘severe menopause and depression’. Now that was a moment of ‘Shame’ , my heart sank to my boots. What were they going to think at work, how lame does menopause symtoms sound, get a grip girl millions of women have gone through this! And on top of that Depression on my work record, over 50 and on the heap. To be honest I would rather have had a proper illness or a broken bone than that. This was an awakening for me, bearing in mind I am a trained counsellor, promote health and wellbeing, advocate self development and mindfulness and promote being OK with depression all the time, ‘ till it happened to me’. This was a truly humbling experience.
The anti depressants did help but still I was having the night sweats so I went back to the GP and went on the HRT. Even with the prescription in my hand I was still unsure wheteher to pick up the prescription. Questions like ‘ what if I get cancer? Am I just being weak and it will pass’ were still going on in my head but for me I decided that I needed to be able to get back to work and function.
While I was off and the HRT was kicking in I did Mindfulness meditation, yoga, had reflexology and lots of self care which helped. I also joined Menopause misery and Menopause Banter on Facebook, they have some great information and light hearted banter. Laughter just what the docot ordered! Now 2 months later the HRT is working I am back to work, feeling good, night sweats and hot flushes gone and I haven’t cried for a month!! The menopause is a personal journey and every woman will experience it in a different way. If you do need support it is out there, you just need to know where to look.