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Understanding What The Menopause Really Is

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Understanding What The Menopause Really Is

There are many distinct times in the life of a female that are influenced by our hormones. Beginning with puberty, we then go through our first period before getting used to a menstrual cycle. Then, we might become pregnant, have children and breastfeed. Later in life, we then experience our menopause. 

The menopause, thankfully now, is being spoken about in the mainstream much more, but it’s still a confusing and often lonely time. We’ve spoken before about easing the symptoms of the menopause, problems with sleep caused by night sweats and hormones and tackling weight gain at this time of life. 

But in this article, we thought we’d take things back to the beginning and talk about what the menopause actually is. Arming ourselves with as much information as possible about the menopause will help us deal with the symptoms and hopefully make it a less daunting time. 

What is the menopause?

As friend of OYG, Dr Louise Newson – The Menopause Doctor, explains, the menopause actually describes an event that’s happened in the past, the word ‘meno’ referring to your menstrual cycle and the word ‘pause’ meaning to stop. A woman is said to be menopausal when she hasn’t had a period for 12 consecutive months. 

Many women experience the symptoms associated with the menopause in the years prior to the menopause, and this is called the perimenopause. The symptoms of the perimenopause and the menopause are very similar and include hot flushes, night sweats, mood changes, recurrent cystitis, a dry vagina and a low libido. These symptoms are usually experienced at the same time as a change in the menstrual cycle. Your periods may become more or less frequent, heavy or painful. 

The perimenopause usually begins in a woman’s 40s (although it can happen earlier) and symptoms can last for up to ten years. In the UK, the average age for a woman to experience her menopause, when her periods have stopped, is 51 years old. 

Both the onset of the perimenopause and the menopause are caused by a natural decline in hormones, in particular oestrogen and to a lesser extent, progesterone and testosterone. Eventually, this gradual decline through the perimenopause increases to the point where the menopause begins, and your periods begin to stop. 

When you haven’t had a period for 12 months, you’re then menopausal and your ovaries are no longer producing eggs and you can no longer become pregnant. It’s this decline in hormones, again most notably oestrogen, that is responsible for the often uncomfortable and distressing symptoms of the perimenopause and the menopause. 

Some women embrace these years, getting a new lease of life and sense of freedom from menstrual cycles and contraception. But some women struggle both physically and emotionally.

If you’re struggling with the symptoms of the perimenopause or the menopause, then it’s important to realise that you’re not alone. Have a listen to our Talks with the Menopause Doctor, Louise Newson and try to open up conversations with friends, colleagues and peers. 

Your GP can discuss the possibility of treatments with you, including hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, which many women find significantly improves their symptoms. 

If there’s anything you’d like us to go into more detail about concerning the menopause, just let us know. We’re always happy to discuss this perfectly natural, but sometimes overwhelming time of life. 

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