This article was written by Debbie Woodliffe, Head of Content & Outreach.
There’s no two ways about it - the symptoms of menopause can be downright miserable. From hot flashes to mood swings and sleep issues to weight changes, the symptoms can be tough to manage. That’s why in this article we’ll explore:
- The signs & symptoms of menopause
- Stages of menopause and what to expect
- Natural ways to soothe the symptoms
So, keep reading as we talk about all things perimenopause and menopause whilst helping to make life a little more comfortable…
The Signs and symptoms of Menopause
Menopause is when menstruation ends for good, and you can no longer get pregnant. Symptoms can begin months or years before your periods' stop, so the discomfort can last a while. Some classic signs of menopause include:
- Anxiety, depression or mood swings
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Hot or cold flushes
- Difficulty sleeping through the night
- Joint and muscle pain
- Loss of interest in sex
- Vaginal dryness
Some go through the change with minimal discomfort or mood changes, whereas others suffer from a lot of uncomfortable symptoms. Whilst going through menopause is a natural part of life, it’s worth visiting your doctor to ensure there isn’t an additional underlying cause for these symptoms.
So, how do you know if you’re going through menopause? Most notice when their periods start to change in frequency and duration. Once your cycle has become significantly irregular, it can take four years for them to stop completely. Once you’ve not had periods for 12 months, you're considered post-menopausal, although your doctor may do some hormone level tests to confirm.
The Stages of menopause and what to expect
The first stage of the change is called perimenopause, which refers to the time when you might still be menstruating and ovulating but notice a reduction in periods. You'll likely start noticing some of the other signs too. It can happen in your thirties, but perimenopause generally starts between the ages of 40 to 45.
If your periods stop before you turn 45, it’s regarded as early menopause, and you will need to see your doctor to confirm. This can happen spontaneously if the ovaries stop producing as much oestrogen, and it can run in families. If you experience symptoms of menopause early, you should visit your GP to rule out any other health issues.
About four or five years after perimenopause begins and 12 months after your periods' end is when you are said to have reached menopause. The drop in estrogen can trigger a range of the above symptoms, which last anywhere from six months to five years.
Natural ways to soothe the symptoms
There are medical treatments for menopause to help restore and replace the hormones you are no longer producing. The most common form of treatment is HRT, though some places are facing shortages of it.
Non-hormonal treatments are more focused on treating and soothing the symptoms of menopause. These include blood pressure medicine for hot flushes and sweating or antidepressants for mood swings. However, some prefer more natural symptom management, so here are a few things you can try:
1. Identify triggers
Some find that certain triggers can cause or worsen specific symptoms, such as:
- Spicy, hot or sugary foods
If you’re trying new ways to ease menopause symptoms, it can be a good idea to keep a symptom diary. Keep track of what you eat and drink, alongside your feelings and stress levels. The aim is to help you quickly identify your triggers, so you can avoid them and reduce discomfort.
2. Meditate and practise mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness are thought to help ease the more mental effects of menopause, such as depression, anxiety and insomnia. Techniques that calm the mind and improve your mental health can positively impact your overall wellness too. Why not start by setting a reminder on your phone for some ‘you’ time, and begin with 15 minutes of meditation a few times a week. There are plenty of mobile & tablet apps available to help you, plus you can track your progress as you go.
You can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere. Simply bring your attention to the present moment, and allow all sensations and thoughts in your mind and body to pass without judgement. You can even practice whilst you eat, taking note of the texture of food in your mouth and how it smells and tastes. It's all about being present in the moment and non-judgemental.
3. Regular exercise
Low impact and regular exercises such as pilates or yoga may be helpful to combat the physical results of menopause, such as increased weight gain and heart issues. Spending time in the sun and fresh air can also help to ease negative mental health symptoms.
Aim to exercise two or three times a week - you don’t need to push yourself too hard, but getting your body moving is key. If yoga or pilates doesn’t take your fancy, why not try weight training, a dance class or book regular walking dates with friends?
Unfortunately, hormonal changes during menopause can mean that your bones get weaker, but there are some steps you can take to help prevent it.
Supplementing with calcium tablets or calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese, and yoghurt is an option, but if you aren’t keen on dairy, there are plenty of plant alternatives such as kale, spinach, or fortified plant milk and cereals.
Vitamin D is used by the body to absorb calcium from the gut, and if you don’t get enough of it in your diet, it may be suitable to take a supplement. This is especially true in winter when there is less sunshine for your body to create it naturally.
5. Try herbal supplements
There are a lot of menopausal support remedies on the market to help your body stay stocked up on the things it needs to thrive despite the lower hormones in your body. Things like magnesium are said to help with fatigue, sage is supposed to help with sweating and hot flushes, and there are combinations to support focus and deliver essential nutrients too.
Some find these supplements help soothe their symptoms, but you should always check with your doctor before starting any new supplements - just in case.
Now you know all about the different stages of menopause, which symptoms to expect and how to treat them. Which method will you try first?