10 facts about menopause
It's an inevitable feature in every woman's life so as your biological clock winds down, learn a few basic facts to ease the transition
Aisling Grimley set up her website 'My Second Spring' in 2013 when she hit 48 and found herself unprepared for menopause and looking for information. A Google search yielded very little that was relevant to Irish women, so she began to research her subject, speaking to health professionals, alternative therapists and women who had come through menopause.
In China, menopause is known as a 'second spring' - it is seen as a positive time of creativity and new beginnings, when women often find a new and more confident voice.
There is an acknowledgment of the wisdom that women have acquired during their earlier years and a feeling that their life experiences can be put to use in many ways, often by helping and advising others.
Two years on, My Second Spring connects with thousands of women in Ireland and abroad each month, helping them navigate the transition that is menopause in a positive proactive way, reorganising their priorities and lifestyles. As menopause becomes less of a taboo topic, women are volunteering lots of information about their challenges and how they cope.
1 How do I know for sure it is menopause?
Menopause is complete at the point when periods have permanently stopped, ovaries have stopped producing eggs, and that is usually measured at 12 months after your last period. Periods can be unpredictable and sporadic in the years before menopause, which is why it is confusing. While doctors can test your FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) levels in your blood for a diagnosis, there is no definitive test to diagnose menopause. Very often your intuition and symptoms will tell you that menopause is on the way.
2 When does menopause happen?
The average age for menopause in Ireland is 52, although it can be much later or earlier. If menopause arrives before the age of 45 it is known as premature menopause. 1pc of women reach menopause before the age of 40.
3 The key symptoms
These include hot flushes and night sweats, mood swings, anxiety, loss of libido and vaginal dryness, urinary symptoms and sleep disturbance. Not all women will experience symptoms, some sail through menopause without noticing any change. Doctors in the field estimate that about 80pc of us will experience some or all of these symptoms, while 45pc of women in Ireland find this challenging.
4 Many symptoms begin during perimenopause
This is the four to eight years leading to menopause. You may start to experience mild flushes or mood swings alongside irregular periods.
5 Will Ineed a doctor? Some estimates suggest that only about 10pc of women will need medical treatment for menopause symptoms. But 100pc of women will benefit from positive lifestyle adjustments in areas such as diet, exercise and stress management.
6 And afterwards?
After menopause, women should be on high alert for osteoporosis, the loss of bone density and weakened bones. It is known as the silent disease - it comes upon us without warning symptoms, and is exacerbated by the drop in oestrogen levels after menopause. Ensuring regular weight-bearing exercise and a diet rich in calcium will protect your bones.
7 Those hot flushes
Most women tend to seek solutions to menopause when they find the daytime surges of heat and nighttime sweats really encroach on their daily lives. Hot flushes are caused by the fluctuating hormone levels - oestrogen and progesterone - which impact the functioning of the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for controlling body temperature, appetite, sex hormones and sleep. For some women, an intense flush can be severe enough to require a change of clothes. Nighttime sweats are even more inconvenient and exhausting - many My Second Spring readers report having to change clothes, bed linen, and even beds! The good news is that flushes and sweats can be well managed by avoiding your triggers - sugar and spicy foods, alcohol, stress and overly warm environments or clothing are common ones. If these changes are ineffective, then a visit to your GP to discuss treatment options may be warranted.
8 The emotional impact
For some women, menopause can be an emotional rollercoaster, with emotions from recurrent anxiety or mild depression to flashes of anger and impatience. These swings are often compounded by the disturbed sleep patterns that accompany night sweats. These can be the most insidious for women in midlife, when many other life pressures are also bearing down, from caring for elderly parents and dealing with empty nests or boomerang kids to loss of self esteem and other health issues. Women with unresolved life issues can have a more difficult menopause, as those issues become magnified. Many women mistakenly attribute low mood to general ageing and don't seek help. Seek out a menopause support group or website, or ask your doctor about a talk therapy such as CBT.
9 Sexual problems are most distressing
Sometimes women will put up with other symptoms without complaining, but a drop in sex drive, caused primarily by androgen deficiency and discomfort during sex, a result of the withdrawal of oestrogen which keeps the vaginal walls elastic and lubricated, tends to be the one that prompts Irish women to take action and visit their doctors. For many, this discomfort and dryness can be alleviated by vaginal lubricants such as Sliquid Organics Natural or pure coconut oil.
10 Be Positive and proactive
Menopause often provides a chance to regroup and reassess our lives and how we are living. Women tend to have the best results if they manage their menopausal symptoms with a positive and holistic approach, starting with great diet, possibly adding supplements as recommended by a nutritionist and taking regular aerobic and weight-bearing exercise to maintain weight and protect bones. It's also very important to stay connected to friends and community and many women find it vital to have some kind of stress management or meditative practice - yoga, mindfulness or tai chi.
For more information and support during menopause visit mysecondspring.ie
Health & Living