What can you do to help with the menopause? Download the Menopause fact sheet to find out.
Menopause is defined as the final menstrual period. It occurs when there has been a change in a woman's reproductive hormones and the ovaries no longer release any eggs. Menopause can occur naturally and at the expected age, prematurely or early. Periods may stop unexpectedly due to primary ovarian insufficiency, or menopause can be caused by surgery, or because of treatment for cancer.
Perimenopause is the stage before natural menopause, and is when the ovaries are running out of eggs. It is often the time when women begin to experience the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flushes, vaginal changes and mood swings.
Management and treatment of menopausal symptoms depend on each individual woman, stage of life, relationships and general level of health and wellbeing. Healthy living, natural and complementary therapies, menopause hormone therapy, or MHT (formerly called hormone replacement therapy, or HRT) and some prescription medications can help relieve menopausal symptoms.
If you have had menopause because of treatment for cancer, or you have had premature or early menopause, it is helpful to understand what you can do for symptoms of menopause.
Menopause is your final menstrual period, but how do you know when your last period has occurred? The different stages of menopause – including perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause – are discussed here, along with what is happening with your hormones and what is the best way of diagnosing menopause.
Causes of menopause
Menopause occurs when there has been a change in a woman's reproductive hormones and the ovaries have run out of eggs. Menopause can happen naturally and at the expected age, or prematurely, or early. Periods can stop unexpectedly due to primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), or menopause can occur when the ovaries are removed through surgery (oophorectomy) or because of various treatments for cancer.
Symptoms of menopause
Symptoms of menopause generally include hot flushes, vaginal changes and mood swings. There are other physical and emotional symptoms of menopause, but no two women will experience menopause in the same way. Culture, general level of health and wellbeing, previous experience of mood problems, lifestyle and whether you have had a natural, surgical or chemotherapy-induced menopause will affect your menopausal symptoms.
Management and treatment of menopausal symptoms depend on each individual woman's experience. Healthy living, herbal and complementary therapies (including herbs and phytoestrogens), menopause hormone therapy, or MHT (formerly called hormone replacement therapy, or HRT), or some non-hormonal prescription medications may assist with symptoms. Pharmacy-compounded hormone therapy is also discussed.
Sex & relationships
Menopause can affect your relationships and your sex life. Symptoms such as a dry vagina can make sex painful and you may find you have less desire for sex. Knowing what to do and where to get help for both you and your partner is helpful.
Mental health & emotions
Hormone changes at menopause can contribute to depressed mood and anxious feelings, and you may find your emotions swing from joy to frustration and annoyance in the blink of an eye. Whether menopause causes depression continues to be debated, but there are many things you can do to help with both depression and anxiety if you experience these at the same time as menopause.
Health after menopause
At the same time as you are menopausal, there are many other areas of your health to keep an eye on. It is important to keep up cervical screening and, breast checks, and to watch your diet, blood pressure and cholesterol to ensure good cardiovascular health. After menopause, changes to the spread of body fat and body shape increases a woman's risk of cardiovascular disease, and lower levels of oestrogen also increase the risk of bladder weakness and osteoporosis.
Menopause after cancer
Having menopause and cancer at the same time can be very distressing. Managing your health, your illness and menopause all at the same time is difficult, given that your treatment options for menopause are often limited. However, there are many things you can do that can help you.
Premature & early menopause
Menopause that happens earlier than 45 years of age is called early menopause. Menopause that occurs earlier than 40 years of age is called premature menopause. This may be due to:
- primary ovarian insufficiency where the periods stop spontaneously
- chemotherapy treatment and radiotherapy for cancer
- surgically induced menopause when the ovaries are removed.
The impact on physical health – including increased risks of earlier onset of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease – emotions, mood, body image and relationships can be significant, but there are treatment options and ways to manage premature and early menopause, which help.
Information for partners
Understanding what your partner is going through at menopause can help you, your partner and your relationship. Knowing about menopause, symptoms, the impact on sex and your relationship, along with tips to assist your partner as she goes through menopause are discussed.
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