Often thought of as a bit of an untouchable topic when it comes to women’s health, not getting the same share of the limelight as things like fertility, menopause is a natural process that is marked by hormonal and physiological changes, that will happen to all women who menstruate. That’s right, for something that none of us can escape, it’s really not discussed often enough. So whether you’re going through it now or gearing yourself up for it, here are 10 need-to-know facts that will guide you through what to expect from menopause.
10 need-to-know facts about menopause
1. Menopause takes its time
It’s almost impossible to pinpoint an exact time when your menopause begins. You won’t all of a sudden stop having periods and then bam, menopause is done. In fact, symptoms can continue for 10 years or longer so don’t suffer in silence – you’re in it for the long haul. Symptoms will usually develop gradually over time and some women won’t experience any symptoms at all. For most women, estrogen, and progesterone levels start to fall naturally in their 30s and 40s and this is when perimenopause begins.
2. Menopausal symptoms are to be expected
There are a whole host of not so lovely symptoms to look forward to when you go through menopause. Common ones include irregular periods, vaginal dryness, and the infamous hot flashes and night sweats. Add to that, sleep problems, mood changes, and weight gain and you’ve got yourself a full house. Bear in mind you might only experience a few of these symptoms, or none at all. All women’s bodies are different and every menopause is different.
3. Tests to check if it’s menopause aren’t always accurate
When you suspect you’re going through menopause it can be tempting to rush to the doctor and demand a test. But you’ll very likely find that your doctor is reluctant to give you one. This is because menopause tests aren’t always accurate. This is because hormones fluctuate naturally over days, weeks, and months and can give false results.
4. There’s help at hand
There’s absolutely no need to suffer your symptoms in silence. If you’re finding your symptoms are hard to deal with, ask your doctor for advice. These days there are a range of treatments that can be prescribed to help relieve some of the symptoms associated with menopause. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is commonly prescribed to low-risk patients and can be a lifesaver for some women. If the changes in your hormones are causing low mood you might also be prescribed anti-depressants. These can regulate your moods and even help with hot flashes.
5. It’s not just physical
For lots of women, the most debilitating aspect of menopause is the effect it can have on your mental health. The changes in your hormones during this period are often compared to how you feel after giving birth. But unlike new moms who have a physical thing to show for their emotional state, menopausal women can end up feeling feel forgotten. Make sure you take time for yourself and surround yourself with positive social support.
6. You can still enjoy great sex
As many as 50% of women experience vaginal dryness and painful sex after menopause, but 90% don’t seek help according to the Harvard Women's Health Watch. Why not though? Women in their twenties and thirties would be far less likely to put up with this symptom, so why should women in their forties and fifties have to? There are lots of products available – from vaginal estrogen inserts to lubricants – which can help to improve the health of your vagina.
7. You can still get pregnant
This is one of the most surprising facts for lots of women. Even if you’re going through menopause you’re still fertile, just less so. So don’t forget to use birth control if you're not trying to get pregnant.
8. Time to care for yourself
Estrogen impacts everything from fat production and distribution to appetite, energy, sleep, and mood so it’s so important to look after yourself during this period of transition. Rest, eat well, try and keep exercising and most importantly, speak to people about how you’re feeling.
9. Your body still produces hormones after the menopause
It’s not like one day there are hormones, the next day there’s none. Your body doesn’t just all of a sudden stop producing estrogen after menopause, it’s still needed for a few essential tasks, there’s just much less of it. Estrogen no longer comes from the ovaries though, instead, the adrenal glands are responsible for hormone production.
10. It’s not all bad
Menopause used to be thought of as the beginning of the end. But as people live longer and we all begin to think more positively about aging, it’s actually being seen as a new beginning. Just think of all those things you can say goodbye to – PMS, periods, hormonal headaches. Doesn’t sound so bad actually.