What is the menopause?
Menopause is the end of menstruation (having periods) in a woman’s life. It is a natural occurrence at the end of the reproductive years, just as the first period during puberty was the start. Periods usually start to become less frequent over a few months or years before they stop altogether. Sometimes though, they can stop suddenly.
The menopause is caused by a change in the balance of the body's sex hormones, which occurs as you get older. It happens when your ovaries stop producing as much of the hormone oestrogen and no longer release an egg each month.
The menopause usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman's oestrogen levels decline. But some women experience the menopause before 40 years of age. This is known as premature menopause or ‘perimenopause’.
Symptoms of the menopause
Most women will experience menopausal symptoms at some stage. Some of these can be quite severe and have a significant impact on your everyday activities.
Common symptoms include:
It is worth talking to your Life Pharmacist or GP if you have menopausal symptoms that are troubling you or if you are experiencing symptoms of the menopause before 45 years of age.
Menopausal symptoms can begin months or even years before your periods stop and last around 4 years after your last period, although some women experience them for much longer.
Your GP can usually confirm whether you are menopausal based on your symptoms, but a blood test to measure your hormone levels may be carried out if you are under 45.
Treatments for menopausal symptoms
Your GP can offer treatments and suggest lifestyle changes if you have menopausal symptoms that interfere with your day-to-day life.
Your GP may refer you to a menopause specialist if your symptoms do not improve after trying treatment or if you are unable to take HRT.
The risk/benefit balance of HRT varies between each woman and from year to year depending on presence or not of symptoms, other medical history and number of years that HRT has been taken.
Generally though, if you become menopausal early (before age 45) or prematurely (before age 40), the benefits of taking HRT up to at least age 50 far outweigh the risks. If you are under 60 and having menopausal symptoms, or have risk for osteoporosis, the benefits also outweigh the risks.
There are no official limits as to how long HRT can be taken, it is up to each woman to balance the risks against the benefits for her. Some women may not need HRT at all, or may take it for a few years only, while others continue to take HRT for many years since it continues to provide significant benefits for them.
Speak to your Life Pharmacist or your GP if you have any questions about Menopause.