Menopausal symptoms usually occur in women between 45 and 55 years of age when menstruation ceases permanently. Changing levels of the female hormone oestrogen can result in hot flushes, palpitations, depression, mood swings and poor libido.
Did you know?
The menopause occurs when ovulation ceases due to a drop in oestrogen
production – the female hormone which regulates menstruation. The
menopause typically begins between 45-55 years of age although some
women may experience premature menopause which occurs before the age of
Premature menopause happens when the ovaries fail earlier than expected and is referred to as premature ovarian failure. It is possible for ovarian failure to occur at any age and with no apparent reasons for doing so.
Women who experience premature ovarian failure usually find their periods stop but this is not always the case. Some women may have intermittent ovarian function meaning eggs will be released by the ovaries from time to time allowing conception to take place.
Causes of premature ovarian failure include conditions such as:
While 80% of women will experience menopausal symptoms just 45% will find them difficult to cope with.
Menopausal symptoms begin in the peri-menopausal stage when the menstrual pattern changes. Periods will typically appear every 2-3 weeks or could disappear for months at a time. Most women will find that bleeding increases.
The most common symptoms of menopause are listed below:
Hot Flushes - These occur in the upper body typically in the face, neck or chest and may spread up or down the body. A hot flush is experienced as sudden heat and the skin may become red or blotchy leading to sweats. Heart rate may increase or become irregular and strong (known as palpitations). Hot flushes are common in the first year once periods have ceased.
Night Sweats - This is the name given to hot flushes during the night.
Sleep Disturbance - Night sweats are usually the cause of sleep disturbance during the menopause but it can be caused by feelings of anxiety. A lack of sleep can cause irritability and affect memory or concentration. If sleep disturbance is persistent it can cause insomnia.
Vaginal Problems - Dryness, itching or discomfort are vaginal symptoms experienced during peri-menopause. Sexual intercourse can become uncomfortable or painful. Combined vaginal symptoms are referred to as vaginal atrophy.
Urinary Problems - Menopausal women are prone to urinary infection such as cystitis and may feel the need to urinate urgently and more often.
Skin Thinning - Some women experience skin thinning
Menopausal symptoms will cease naturally without treatment two to five years after they start but can worsen if left untreated.
One of the big risks for menopausal women is from osteoporosis whereby bone mass decreases increasing the chances of fractures. Women going through the menopause should ensure they receive plenty of calcium in their diet. Taking part in short sessions of weight bearing exercise, giving up smoking and moderating alcohol intake will reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis.
No tests exists to determine either peri-menopause or menopause but
your GP can measure the levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) in
the blood which rises when women experience the menopause. However, as
levels of FSH rise and fall on a daily basis during menopause it is not
enough to make a diagnosis on its own.
Your GP will take into account your age when making a diagnosis and whether you're still experiencing menstruation. This coupled with associated symptoms of the menopause is usually enough for your doctor to make an accurate diagnosis and treat you accordingly. If your symptoms are severe and you're finding them difficult to cope with consult your GP immediately.