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Are we there yet?

notepad with menopause stamped on cover, surrounded with cup of coffee, envelope and stethoscope

Maybe you noticed those hot flashes more and more, maybe your periods have become a little less frequent, or maybe your mood has taken a real dip. Whatever your concerns/symptoms there is a reason you are reading this. So let’s look at the signs of menopause and where about you may be on your journey. I’ll explain each stage of the menopause and share some fantastic recourses to help you along the way.

Perimenopause

Perimenopause (meaning ‘around’ menopause) is the period before entering menopause. You may be experiencing anything from mild to severe symptoms, but the once noticeable difference from menopause, is that you will still be experiencing periods in some form or another. And your hormones will be fluctuating continually (hence why single blood tests cannot tell if you are perimenopausal).

The perimenopause stage lasts for anything from 4-10 years and only comes to an end when you enter menopause. If you are experiencing any symptoms and feel you may need some support then please do make an appointment with your GP (ask if your surgery has a specialist GP, or for a female GP if that helps). Do also check out the Balance app/site for support, information and the latest news from Dr Louise Newson.

HRT is definitely something to explore when you are Perimenopausal. There are many different varieties, so please don’t give up if the first HRT you are given doesn’t seem to help. Discuss with your GP and read up to see just what options are available to you. The other thing to do, if you are not already, is to start taking vitamins and supplements specifically to help you at this stage. Read my previous blog post with suggested vitamins and supplement to aid symptoms of menopause. I didn’t notice an immediate effect as such, but what I do notice is a huge effect when I forget them!

Menopause

Menopause is the exact point when your periods stop and/or you have not had a period for 12 months or longer. It commonly occurs between the ages of 45 to 55, with the average age being 51. Entering the menopause before the age of 40 is classed as early onset or premature menopause.

Post menopause

Post-menopause is the phase entered after menopause, when your periods have stopped. You no longer ovulate and cannot become pregnant naturally.

Menopausal symptoms, whether you had previously or not, can last months or even years after menopause. As before, various treatments including HRT and supplements can still help with these. Symptoms will gradually begin to decrease, and many women feel a new lease of life.

Being post menopausal can bring about it’s own set of challenges:

  • Osteoporosis – Oestrogen tells bone cells to stop breaking down, so your bones can become more fragile after the menopause. The average woman loses 25% of her bone density between menopause and the age of 60, and it continues to decline throughout your life.
  • Heart disease – Oestrogen helps protect your heart and blood vessels but after menopause your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart disease, increases. You might also be at risk of high blood pressure and stroke, too.
  • Body shape & weight – research suggests menopause may cause fat to be redistributed around your tummy area, meaning many women change from a pear shape to an apple shape. Moreover, carrying extra weight around your middle is known to increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Hair, skins & nails – your skin loses around 30% of its collagen in the first five years after menopause, and then it drops dramatically. You might also notice your skin becoming much drier and deeper wrinkles, too. At the same time, lack of oestrogen causes the hair on your head to thin.

Mental Health

As well as physical symptoms, mental health can suffer during perimenopause and menopause. Often GP’s can misdiagnose as anxiety and/or depression, prescribing anti-depressants instead of HRT. Again, Dr Louise Newson has a fantastic booklet on just this:

Mental health and emotional wellbeing in the perimenopause and menopause

Therapies can be offered, including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Interestingly, antidepressants given alongside HRT, are proven to work more effectively than instead of/without HRT.

My Story

I have been perimenopausal for approx. 4/5 years, and it took me 3 years to be officially diagnosed (along with high blood pressure) and prescribed HRT. I am now on Utrogestan (Progesterone) capsules, Evorel (Oestrogen) patches as we found I needed a higher dose of Oestrogen. As well as Lisinopril for my HBP and Mirtazapine for my anxiety, depression and sleep problems. When it got really bad I felt like I was literally losing my mind, and that nobody would listen. I suffered most of the 34 symptoms and felt unable to continue with my day to day life as it was. I am slowly getting back to how I was, but it hasn’t been easy. Without the support of friends and family, and very understanding employers, then I’m not quite sure where I would be.

Don’t be afraid to ask!

The one thing I would ask for you to take away from this is to realise that you are not alone. There is a lot of information out there and hopefully I’ve given you a good place to start. However, please do not be afraid to ask for help, however you choose. Visit your GP, ask an expert or simply message a friend. We’d all love to help! And if you don’t get the answers you were looking for, or feel you haven’t been listened too, then ask again!

Fay x

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