What Is Menopause?
Despite what you may have heard, menopause is nothing to be afraid of. Typically women between 45 and 55 go through menopause, and while the lead up to this time of your life can be daunting, it is neither a disease nor a disorder. It is a natural process of life.
The production of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone naturally shut down, signalling the end of our reproductive years and menstruation. Menopause typically lasts around 7 years for most women, but can sometimes last up to 14 years.
There are many changes your body can go through during menopause, some of which you may or may not experience.
As the production of oestrogen and progesterone begins to shut down, our hormone levels start to fluctuate, causing mood swings – one of the most common symptoms of menopause.
Mood swings have often been stereotyped as just irritability, but this isn’t always the case. During menopause, women can also experience bouts of unexplainable anger, tears, and/or sadness. This can cause women severe emotional stress as they typically don’t know why they’re experiencing these feelings, sometimes causing relationships to suffer.
It’s important to understand how to manage mood swings and to implement these lifestyle changes to help reduce stress and promote relaxation:
- Regular exercise paired with a healthy diet rich in protein and omega 3 can promote physical and mental health, and reduce mood swings.
- Meditation is a relaxation method where you focus on relaxing your mind, leading to reduced stress levels and a boost in emotional well-being.
- Good quality sleep is proven to support healthy brain function. When you don’t get a good night’s sleep, your tiredness is likely to cause you to be irritable and grumpy.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking, as these substances are proven to alter your emotions. Research shows that smoking increases anxiety and tension, while alcohol changes the chemicals in your brain, leading to more negative emotions.
Hot flashes are another common symptom of menopause and are caused by the decrease of oestrogen levels. Without the production of oestrogen, your body releases higher amounts of hormones that increase your body temperature. Hot flashes usually display as sudden warmth in the upper body, mostly over the face, neck, and chest. Your skin will most likely redden and you may start sweating. When this happens at night, it is called night sweats.
While hot flashes can be uncomfortable and may interrupt your daily life, there are many lifestyle changes you can implement to help manage this symptom:
- If experiencing night sweats, try lowering the temperature in your bedroom if you can, turn on a fan or air conditioner, layer your bedding so it can be adjusted as needed, and drink small amounts of cold water before sleeping.
- Carry a portable fan to keep yourself cool during a hot flash.
- Try to maintain a healthy weight, as women who are overweight can experience more frequent hot flashes.
- Avoid spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine. These substances can make menopausal symptoms, especially hot flashes, worse.
- Dress in layers that can be easily removed during a hot flash.
- Some research shows that hypnotherapy and mindfulness meditation can help with managing hot flashes.
If none of these techniques work, speak to one of our specialists about hormonal and non-hormonal medications.
Sleep disturbances are a menopausal symptom that most women don’t anticipate, and are usually caused by the reduced production of female hormones. Sleep issues such as night sweats (mentioned above), insomnia, and sleep apnoea are most common, but there is a chance you can experience others such as restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movements disorder.
Here are some helpful tips to help you sleep better with menopause:
- Develop a bedtime routine and regular sleep schedule. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Avoid napping during the day as this can interfere with sleeping at night. Try some relaxation techniques to help reduce stress before sleeping, such as meditation, taking a bath, reading, or listening to music.
- Dress in lightweight pyjamas, or sleep naked, to stay cool at night. Consider swapping out your bedding for cooler fabrics like cotton.
- Try to reduce stress as much as possible, as anxious and stressful thoughts are known to keep you up at night. Regular massage, exercise, yoga, and meditation can help reduce stress. If you are feeling depressed or anxious, speak to your doctor about treatment options.
Weight gain is yet another common menopausal symptom. Reduced oestrogen levels can cause fat to be stored around the waist rather than hips and thighs. Other menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and poor sleep, can make it difficult to exercise and eat healthy. Weight gain can lead to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and dementia. It’s important to manage your weight during menopause to reduce the risk of chronic disease.
- A healthy diet is great for maintaining a healthy weight, as well as improving energy levels. A low-calorie or low-carb diet is recommended and can also help with other health issues like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Physical activity has many benefits, including reducing the risk of chronic disease, and managing weight and other menopausal symptoms. It’s best to try and be active every day of the week, even if it’s just going for a brisk walk, a nice swim, or playing golf. High intensity workouts like jogging, fast cycling, and aerobics are also great.
- Prioritising sleep also helps with managing weight gain. Poor sleep can usually lead to eating more food and making poor food choices.
- Lower your alcohol consumption, or avoid it altogether. Drinking alcohol can cause weight gain, interfere with your sleep, and affect other menopausal symptoms.
- If menopausal symptoms are making it difficult to stay active and eat well, speak to our team about menopausal hormone therapy (MHT).
Sexual desire (libido) and sexual experience can be affected by menopause. Symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, sleep problems, low energy levels, and mood swings can cause you to be less interested in sex. Menopause can also cause the walls of your vagina to be thinner and drier, creating vaginal irritation and leading to painful sex.
See your doctor and request a referral to Northside Gynaecology to discuss options in managing your affected sexual experience. These options can include:
- Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT).
- Vaginal lubricants or moisturisers.
- Testosterone therapy (this should be supervised by your doctor).
- Pelvic floor physiotherapy.
- MonaLisa Touch (MLT).
Lowered levels of oestrogen can cause bone density to decrease, leading to an increased risk of osteoporosis, a condition where your bones are less dense, causing them to break or fracture more easily. You can reduce your risk of osteoporosis by incorporating more calcium and vitamin D into your diet, exercising regularly, or taking MHT.
Speak to our specialist Exercise Physiologist (no referral required) about a tailored exercise program, or one of our doctors (request a referral from your GP) if you are worried about your risk of getting osteoporosis during menopause.
If you’re seeking medical advice and/or treatment options for symptoms of menopause, the compassionate team at Northside Gynaecology are experienced in pelvic floor physiotherapy, exercise physiology, the MonaLisa Touch treatment, and all things menopause. Speak to our friendly staff today.