The menopause is defined as a woman's final period. In Western Women this occurs on average between the ages of 45-50, but sometimes can occur earlier or later in life. Unfortunately, there is no way of predicting when it will happen.
The technical bit
The menopause occurs when the ovaries no longer respond to the controlling hormones released in the pituitary gland in the brain. As a result, the ovaries stop releasing an egg each month and stop producing the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. It is the fall in levels of oestrogen and progesterone that gives rise to the symptoms of the menopause.
Pre or Peri Menopause
This is often characterised as a bout of irregular periods as the body reduces its production of oestrogen and progesterone. This can last up to 2-3 years before the menopause itself starts.
A common symptom of the menopause is lower self-esteem, and this occurs for a lot of women. The physical symptoms of anxiety are caused by the brain sending a message to parts of the body to prepare for the "fight or flight" response. Most people experience this when faced with a stressful situation, and it can be common. If it is interfering with daily activities though, it can be much more serious.
Anxiety Self Help
Some people are able to improve their symptoms by relaxation techniques, exercise, or talking to other people in support groups. Your GP should be able to advise you of groups in your area. Some women find that taking certain herbs, such as Passiflora can be helpful in the long term.
This is often characterised as a sudden sense of anxiety without any warning or trigger. Panic attacks can take the form of shakes, increased heart rate, dry mouth, shortness of breath, dizziness and feelings of helplessness.
Panic Attacks Self Help
Once again, exercise and controlled breathing can help in these situations. We would also recommend speaking to a GP if these are happening more frequently. It is worth noting when these take place, in case there is a pattern to them.
Reduction in Sex Drive
This may be caused by the decrease in oestrogen and progesterone, tiredness or vaginal dryness, which can cause pain or discomfort. But, the reasons aren't always physical. Some women find the changes they go through during the menopause affect how they feel about themselves, and this can make them feel unattractive or self conscious.
Reduction in Sex Drive Self Help
Speaking to your partner is the best help you can give yourself! Don't be afraid to let them know how you are feeling. After all, you are with them because you love them.
Ginseng - in Asian countries this is reported to have aphrodisiac qualities!
A lack of oestrogen can cause irregularities in the body's internal cooling system. Hot flushes are a sudden sensation of burning heat spreading across the face, neck and chest. Up to 80 percent of women experience them to some degree.
Hot Flushes Self Help
Wear cotton clothing.
Lavender and chamomile oils can be soothing.
Running the insides of your wrists under cold water for a few minutes.
Imagine yourself in a cool place.
You may find it useful to keep a note of when the hot flushes occur to see if a pattern emerges.
Finally, it is worth noting that although uncomfortable and embarrassing for you, often other people do not even notice when you are having one.
This would indicate you are going through the pre-menopause, or peri-menopause, as the menopause starts on the date of your last ever period. This is caused by the reduction in oestrogen being produced in your body, and is normal because you are not producing an egg every month.
Night sweats are often linked to hot flushes and tend to happen at night, although they can happen during the day. Women going through the menopause may find these disturb their sleep patterns.
Night Sweats Self Help
Wear cotton nightwear in bed.
Use layers of sheets on the bed rather than a duvet, thereby making it easier to cool down quickly.
Don't drink caffeine before going to sleep.
Alcohol may also have an effect on hot flushes and increase the frequency of them.
Stop smoking - now's the time to give up! It can also increase the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
During the menopause, due to the reduction in oestrogen being produced by the body, this can lead to a thinning of the tissues around the vaginal area. The number of small glands making mucus reduces.
Vaginal Dryness Self Help
There are both lubricating gels and oestrogen creams on the market which will help with this problem.
Although many women do find that they put on weight during the menopause, recent studies have concluded that the menopause itself is not the cause of weight gain, but just a general slowing down of the metabolic rate as you get older and a reduction in activity
Weight Gain Self Help
Exercise! The more exercise you do, the more your metabolic rate will increase, thereby burning fats faster. Try increasing the amount of exercise you do in a week, little by little - even a small amount can help.