What you need to know about menopause
What is menopause?
Menopause signals the end of a women’s monthly menstrual periods and happens when she runs out of eggs. A woman is considered to be post-menopausal if she has not had a period for 12 months. This usually occurs from the age of 45 to 55, and the average age in Australia is 51.
Just as your first period signalled the start of your reproductive years, menopause is a natural end of your ability to have a baby.
Some women experience no symptoms at all before or during menopause. Others start to notice symptoms months or years before their last period and may experience them for several years afterwards. These include
- Hot flushes;
- Night sweats and trouble sleeping;
- Mild depression;
- Mood swings;
- Sensitive skin – some women can’t bear being touched;
- Aches and pains, and headaches;
- Weight gain, especially around the middle;
- Reduced self-esteem or negative body image; and
The time before menopause is known as perimenopause. It’s normal for your periods to become irregular or lighter at this stage. However, it’s important to consult your GP if you have heavy or unpredictable bleeding.
Menopause and sex
A reduced sex drive (libido) is normal after menopause. The hormonal changes can also lead to a dry vagina, making sex painful and increasing the risk of vaginal or bladder infections. You can also talk to your GP about lubricants, vaginal oestrogen creams or pessaries to help reduce dryness.
The risk of a heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure increases after menopause. Speak to your GP about how you can stay healthy by eating well and doing enough exercise.
Your bones may lose density and become fragile after menopause. This is known as osteoporosis and increases the risk of a fracture if not diagnosed and treated. You can help prevent osteoporosis by getting enough vitamin D through sunlight or a daily multivitamin, eating a diet rich in calcium and performing regular exercise
All women experience menopause differently, so the best way to manage symptoms will vary.
It might help to layer your clothing during the day to help manage hot flushes. Wearing light-weight pyjamas and using summer bedding may help reduce night sweats.
Hormone replacement therapy, also known as menopause hormone therapy, may be appropriate for some women with moderate to severe symptoms. This is something you should discuss with your GP who will also be able to advise you on the appropriatness and risks associated with such therapy.
You should also speak to a GP if you are feeling depressed.
How your GP can help
Your GP can provide more information on menopause symptoms and treatment and refer you to a specialist or other healthcare provider if needed.
Your GP is also the first port of call for cervical screening and checks for bone density and cardiovascular health to prevent stroke or heart disease.
Eight ways to take control of your health
You can reduce the symptoms and complications of menopause by getting enough calcium, eating healthily, exercising regularly, refraining from smoking and having regular health checks.
- Cervical screening: Every five years or as advised by your GP
- Mammogram: Every two years or as advised by your GP
- Bone density check: Speak to your GP about how often this is recommended for you
- Smoking: Your GP or pharmacist can advise you on strategies to help you quit. This is important because smoking increases the risk of osteoporosis and hip fractures and increases the risk of a heart attack and stroke.
- Caffeine: More than three cups a day may aggravate hot flushes and may contribute to osteoporosis.
- Exercise: You can start slowly, but aim for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Include both cardiovascular exercise and weight-bearing exercise. Speak to a physiotherapist or an exercise physiologist if you are uncertain about what to do. Click here for a guide to exercise during menopause.
- Calcium:You should get between 800 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium every day to keep your bones strong. Good sources include dark green leafy vegetables, dairy products, legumes, sardines and salmon. Click here for a guide to getting enough calcium.
- Vitamin D: you can get this naturally from the sun.Vitamin D helps your body absorb enough calcium from food. Remember to stay sun safe. You need only about ten minutes of sun exposure mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Click here for a guide to getting enough vitamin D in Australia.