Are you seeking help for menopause symptoms? Through menopause and the years leading up (perimenopause), enormous hormone-related changes can affect your mental and physical wellbeing, including your gynaecological health. The symptoms of menopause are many and can hugely affect all areas of a woman’s life – including work, play and even sleep. So what help for menopause is available to help you feel like yourself again? Let’s break it down.
First things first – what is the menopause?
Simply put, menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her menstrual periods cease because the hormones governing the process are depleted. Perimenopause is the process leading up to this point, when a woman is experiencing menopausal symptoms – ‘going through’ the menopause. A woman is considered to have ‘gone through’ the menopause when she has had no period for twelve months. Usually, a woman reaches menopause between the ages of 45-55, though it can sometimes happen earlier.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
Menopause symptoms often have a significant impact on a woman’s life, beginning and continuing for months or years before cessation of periods. Most symptoms result from falling levels of oestrogen. They vary from woman to woman and you may find you experience very little or even no problems. However, common symptoms include:
- Brain fog
- Low mood
- Hot flushes (hot flashes)
- Mood swings
- Disturbed sleep
- Racing heart
- Migraines and/or headaches
- Muscle aches
- Putting on weight
- Itchy and dry skin
- High blood pressure
- More brittle bones (from loss of calcium in the bones)
Irregular periods are one of the main gynaecological symptoms experienced in the perimenopausal phase. Women may also find themselves coming up against heavy periods and spotting, both of which may feel worrying at first, but are normal symptoms during this time of life. Alongside alterations to the menstrual cycle, there are other gynaecological symptoms to look out for. These include:
- Low sex drive
- Vaginal itching and dryness
- Pain or discomfort when having sex (this is often a result of dryness)
- Repeated UTIs (urinary tract infections)
These gynaecological symptoms can feel frustrating and have a negative impact on your wellbeing. For example, UTIs can cause a painful burning sensation when going to the toilet, as well as a frequent urge to urinate, pelvic pain and passing blood. This can make day-to-day tasks almost impossible, and it can be dismaying to experience these symptoms regularly, especially if you were not prone to UTIs prior to the menopause.
With so many different symptoms that often significantly impact work and relationships, it’s no wonder so many woman ask: what is there in terms of help for menopause?
What is naturally good for menopause?
“Facing menopause, some women want to try the natural route first, and many others go straight to HRT,” says Dr Albert Aka, Consultant Gynaecologist at The Gynae Centre and a specialist in the menopause. “Here at The Gynae Centre we support a ‘woman’s body, woman’s choice’ ethos of course.
“In any case, well-rounded help for menopause ideally includes more than medicine, incorporating some helpful lifestyle changes as well, which will ultimately benefit you all-round in this new phase of life.”
If you are interested in trying some natural help for menopause, here are some things you might want to look at.
Hooray for workouts! A number of studies have demonstrated that consistent exercise markedly lowered menopausal symptoms and boosted overall well-being.
Exercise may help to balance the sex hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone which naturally decrease during menopause. For example, consistent exercise has been shown to help with the healthy metabolization of the female sex hormone oestrogen. Workouts also boost feel good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, helping you surf those mood swing waves more smoothly. And in addition to increasing strength and flexibility, exercise can help to build self-confidence at a time of great change.
Obviously there are a hundred different ways to exercise and it’s best to start bearing your current fitness levels in mind, and consult your doctor if in doubt. But for most women, incorporating exercise into that menopause treatment toolkit will be beneficial. Try to include resistance exercise (e.g. with weights, bands, or use of your own body weight as in yoga) and not simply cardio, to help strengthen those muscles that support you.
Studies have shown that excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt the endocrine system (the system of glands that make and transmit hormones throughout the body) and cause hormonal disturbances. So if you’re approaching the menopause, there’s never been a better time to look at your alcohol consumption and reduce if needs be. What is moderate? For a woman, generally one drink a day.
Cutting down that caffeine
Reducing your caffeine intake may help with hot flashes. Indeed, one study showed ‘caffeine use is associated with greater vasomotor symptom bother (hot flashes) in postmenopausal women.’ So perhaps try swapping out the coffees for herbal tea.
Stress management techniques
For many women, the menopause years can be a time of increased stress, both due to the immense hormonal changes and the psychological impact of dealing with the changes in your body. While stress management techniques aren’t aiming to change the physical symptoms, they may help you cope with them. For example one study found that use of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction techniques among perimenopausal and postmenopausal women showed a ‘reduction of psychological symptoms of depression and anxiety’. Mindful practices you may want to try include yoga and meditation, which many people find to be calming.
There are many things you can do to help get the nutrients you need during the menopause. For example:
- Replace depleted calcium with milk and dairy products – try to get two to three portions daily
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits
- Oily fish is a source of vitamin D and other goodies
- Choose heart-healthy options like grilling rather than frying your food
- Get plenty of legumes, nuts and seeds on your plate
- Slash your sugar intake
- Eat plenty of plant-oestrogen foods such as soya products and linseeds
For more detail, The British Dietetic Association has great recommendations for good eating during these hormonal changes.
Vitamin D is crucial for bone health and becomes even more so during the menopause. During the autumn and winter months in the UK sunshine isn’t the source to look to. Instead, consider a vitamin D supplement, in addition to the foods earmarked above.
Beyond that, there are many supplements on the market claiming to ease menopause symptoms, and anecdotally many women have found some benefit from them. However, there is generally yet to be robust evidence for these remedies and some of them have side effect risks and contraindications. So speak to your doctor before you start taking any supplements.
Relationship and sex therapy
Both the mental and gynaecological symptoms of the menopause may lead to difficulties in your relationship. If you are feeling low in confidence and mood, tired, stressed, or are experiencing discomfort in your pelvic area, it’s unlikely that you will want to take part in intimate activities with your partner. Although many couples can get through this period through communication and support, there are also those who may need relationship help in the form of a counsellor.
Counselling may be able to identify the issues in your relationship and provide you advice to move forward. If it is specifically sex that you are struggling with, a specialist therapist can recommend activities to help you increase your libido and improve intimate time between you and your partner.
As mentioned earlier, vaginal dryness is one of the gynaecological symptoms that women commonly face during the menopause. Not only can this cause discomfort throughout the day, it can strike particularly during sex, where you may notice that you do not feel as lubricated as usual. Alternative lubrication, such as water, silicone and oil-based lubricants, can make a huge difference in this area, helping you to feel more comfortable throughout intercourse.
When should you seek help for menopause?
The way to answer this question is with a question: Are your menopause symptoms impeding your quality of life? If you find that your menopause symptoms are interfering with your work, relationships and sense of wellbeing, it may be time to seek help for menopause. See your GP or book an appointment with a consultant at The Gynae Centre.
Latest menopause treatments
When it comes to help for menopause, there is nothing more effective than Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
Hormone replacement therapy is exactly as it sounds – a replacement of the hormones (such as oestrogen and progesterone) that diminish as you approach the menopause. In this way, most symptoms of the menopause are alleviated. For example, the help for menopause symptoms covered by HRT include better protection against bone problems such as osteoporosis.
What does HRT involve? It depends on the individual. The best help for menopause will be tailored to you and your needs and concerns. For example, here at The Gynae Centre we offer hormone implants via Mirena Coil to help circumvent potential problems associated with systemic progesterone exposure. We also offer testosterone patches or implants to address a decreased libido. Indeed we offer a broad spectrum of hormone treatments tailored to your symptoms and preferences. Our status as an esteemed gynaecology practice also means we can carefully examine you along the way as you enter this new phase of life.