Menopause – time to put Me first for a Change?
The ‘M’ word – Menopause. Not exactly readily discussed, either online or in the real world. It’s my belief that until all those glamorous thirty-something mum bloggers have fast-forwarded 20 years, their gorgeous tots morphed into gangly, awkward teens who are less instagram-friendly, and they themselves start to feel the effects of peri-menopausal hormone-withdrawal, will we really get attention lavished on the subject. I’ve searched through numerous blog posts and simply can’t find any ’10-top tips’ or ‘The Best way to Manage Your Menopause. I’m sure they exist, and there is information out there of course. It just does not seem to be a very cool topic (no pun intended for those of us feeling the heat at inconvenient times) So, I decided to produce a post about the menopause myself.
So, firstly what actually is the Menopause?
The term is used fairly broadly to describe a set of symptoms but the official description is thus: The menopause is when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally. It is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. Discussing it with friends does happen but it is very difficult to have any kind of positive vibe around the subject. It is synonymous with ageing for a start. It’s different for every woman, meaning that for every late forties woman experiencing symptoms, there will be a slightly smug symptom-free fifty-something (this I have to confess, was me until a year or so ago).
The Emotional Impact of The Menopause
The emotional impact can be significant. There may be a feeling that now you have done what you need to do as a fertile woman, whether you’ve had kids or not, wanted them or not, the sudden finality of no longer being able to do can take some adjusting to. The more old-fashioned term The Change, actually resonates. Change of any kind is challenging, often unwanted and requires a new way of thinking about a lot that we have taken for granted. No-one especially wants to bond with other women on this experience, a jokey stoical remark or two is about as far as it goes. So it can feel quite isolating. A lot of women are still at the stage in their lives where they either can’t or don’t pay a lot of attention to their own health and well-being anyway. Other things take priority: career, kids, their own ageing parents. The juggling don’t stop just because you are being floored by badly-timed hot flushes.
Along with the well-known features such as the aforementioned hot flushes and irregular cycles, there can be a host of other symptoms: thinning hair, dry eyes, weight gain. Depression, anxiety and absent-mindedness can become issues that affect day to day living. None of these are exactly fun topics of conversation, alluding as they do to a sense of being less able mentally and physically and let’s face it, getting OLD. Where, you ask, are the positives?
The fact is we are experiencing menopause because we are living longer. Today’s women are very likely also working, and with the pension age being pushed out even further, there is little chance of being able to simply retire into the background. We need to be feeling our best physically and mentally, and why not, given the challenges we face in the modern world.
That leaves women who are wanting to get on with our busy lives but with the menopause ever present, to kind of muddle through on a mixed bag of suggestions, depending on who you talk to, what symptoms are endurable, what latest scary medical report we read etc.
Choices of Treatment
So what choices are there available to treat both the symptoms and the actual physical effects of the menopause? I must state here of course that I am not in any way medically trained, I am simply writing from a personal perspective.
Women looking to relieve the symptoms of the menopause tend to rely on either traditional hormone-replacement treatments such as standard HRT, more tailored ‘bio-identical’ or BHRT . Then there are the non ‘medical’ herbal remedies. or even simply choosing to use nothing at all. Those of us who think they can weather this with ‘nothing at all’ are likely to get a bit of a shock: of course eating well, exercising, avoiding stress etc are all things that women should aim for anyway, at all stages of life. But the simple fact that your system is suddenly experiencing a withdrawal of hormones that it has been used to for the best part of thirty years, is going to have physical effects. There are also implications for this beyond the standard symptoms: for example increased risk of heart attack, loss of bone density and possible osteoporosis are all very real scenarios.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
HRT works by providing oestrogen and progesterone via a daily pill dose, or you can also get it in the form of a cream. Being part of the second generation of women with access to HRT has coincided with some studies on its side-effects which have successfully scared off a lot of my contemporaries. I was of the same opinion, but the menopause was a good decade away for me when these statistics first appeared. Plus I had no idea of quite how awful the symptoms could be.
My own experience has been fairly straightforward: I was symptom-free well into my 50s then all of a sudden began having utterly debilitating hot flushes. Classic textbook stuff: disturbed sleep as I sweated buckets, covers thrown off and back on again etc. However, the ones I experienced during the daytime were even worse. Inconvenient and awkward and definitely affecting my overall wellbeing. Something had to be done, and having seen it work for my own mother, I went straight to the doctor and got myself on a dose of standard HRT. I currently take a daily low dose pill and am symptom free for now.
The majority of women who choose to avoid HRT do so due to the negative press it has received. A fear of developing breast cancer is the main concern, but although each individual’s risk is different, studies would suggest that being overweight at this stage in life is more of a risk factor, as it is for several other cancers.There is also a slight increase of developing blood clots,the same as with the oral contraceptive. So taking a shortish term view and taking HRT for a few years might be a good bet for many, but seeing your doctor to talk things through is the best idea.
Bio-identical Hormones (BHRT)
As mentioned above, bio-identical hormones or BHRT can be obtained, but you will have to pay for them, as opposed to being able to access HRT for almost nothing on the NHS if you are based in the UK. Again, I do not have any medical background to provide insight but I do have a friend who has used them, but did not find them particularly effective for her. However what is an undoubted positive is that there is less of the ‘one-size fits all’ approach that can be a feature of NHS prescribed HRT. A more thorough assessment based on blood tests to find out exactly what is happening physically will of course result in an individually tailored set of medications, which also have a more natural profile to them. A holistic approach to menopause is a good idea, and even if my friend did not get the relief she wanted, she definitely benefitted from being properly assessed.
Another choice available is to use natural remedies, derived from herb and plant extracts.
Natural remedies can give relief to one or more specific symptoms: for example
Black Cohosh is a well-known herbal treatment for hot flushes. I recently read very positive things about Sage Complex in the highly regarded Victoria Health blog. This product contains a balanced amount of phytoestrogens, derived from Sage Leaf, Red Clover, Chaste Tree and several other herbs. Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring plant compounds which have a chemical make-up similar to oestrogen. They can have a very positive and balancing effect on the body.
Natural remedies are broadly ‘safer’ to use, and there will always be a percentage of women for whom HRT is not suitable due to other health-related issues such as migraines It really does depend on your personal circumstances, how you are feeling at the time, and your overall view of the menopause: would you prefer to deal with individual symptoms as and when they arise? Or would you prefer to take a bigger-picture approach to the whole physical shift?
Do Get Treatment For Your Symptoms
Let’s face it, life for most of us can be challenging at every stage. Women’s lives are shaped by their hormones whether they like it or not. How we choose to deal with this depends on many factors. I believe you should definitely take action and get help for any symptoms or issues: these will of course vary, and women’s reactions to them will differ too. The menopause is still I believe under-discussed, despite the large amount of information available. I can’t pretend to have any definite answers but I hope this post has given some food for thought and encouraged further reading around a subject that no-one seems to really enjoy talking about. This needs to change (no pun intended…)
Are you dealing with menopausal symptoms, not yet experienced them, or come through the other side? I would love to hear any observations and experiences.
Many thanks for reading xx