It doesn’t just happen one day
By Alison Lynch
Despite the fact every woman goes through it, menopause is still seen as a taboo topic. A natural sign of ageing, it can be something women – and society in general – are reluctant to talk about openly. This inevitably leads to confusion.
So we spoke to Dr Louise Newson (aka the Menopause Doctor) to do a little myth busting.
Myth 1: It happens overnight
According to the NHS, on average, most women’s menopausal symptoms last around four years from their last period, but one in every 10 women experiences them for up to 12 years.
“You may also start to have symptoms during your perimenopause (the time in which the ovaries start to produce less oestrogen, so you experience menopausal symptoms but are still having periods) that can last for several years,” explains Dr Louise.
Myth 2: The symptoms are purely physical
“Perimenopause and menopause can lead to many different symptoms because oestrogen affects so many areas,” says Dr Louise. “Psychological symptoms include low mood, feelings of depression, feelings of low self-esteem, reduced motivation, anxiety, irritability, panic attacks, poor concentration and low energy. It’s important to tell your doctor about all the symptoms you’re experiencing so they can offer the right treatment.”
Myth 3: It’s all about the hot flushes
Hot flushes and night sweats are common, but as Dr Louise explains: “These are the symptoms that often bother my patients the least. It’s the symptoms other people can’t see that can lead to the most difficulties.
Bladder weakness is one of these ‘hidden’ worries. “The low levels of oestrogen can cause the bladder to become thinner and less elastic,” Dr Louise explains. “The muscles that support the pelvic floor become weaker too. These changes may mean you need to pass urine more often, you may experience bladder leakage, or you may be prone to recurrent urinary infections such as cystitis.”
Rather than try to manage it on your own, speak to your doctor about which treatments might work for you. TENA Lady’s range of pads and pants also offer Triple Protection from leaks, odour and moisture, that can be worn during the day or night. They’re designed to be totally discreet – the new TENA Silhouette Lady range not only offers complete security, but looks and feels like regular cotton underwear.
Myth 4: Menopause begins at 50
While the average age of menopause in the UK is 51, a woman can start to experience menopausal symptoms between the ages of 45 and 55. And around one in a hundred women under the age of 40 in the UK experiences premature menopause*. Dr Louise says: “Women may be going through an early menopause without realising, so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you have irregular periods or your periods have stopped. They can recommend a test for early menopause.”
Myth 5: It will affect your sex life adversely
“Many women do find that their libido reduces during this time,” explains Dr Louise. This can be down to many factors, including fluctuating hormones levels, symptoms such as vaginal dryness and the emotional impact of going through these changes. However, Dr Louise adds: “Some women actually experience increased libido, as their levels of testosterone – the hormone which improves libido – can increase for a period of time before declining. It can also be very liberating for women to no longer have their periods.”
Myth 6: You can ditch the contraception immediately
Although women’s fertility starts to fall after about the age of 35, late pregnancy can and does happen – even after the menopause.
It’s recommended that women who reach menopause at 50 or over should use contraception for 12 months after their last period, while women who reach menopause under 50 should continue to use contraception for two years after their last period.
Myth 7: HRT is the last resort
Dr Louise says: “Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the most effective treatment available to relieve symptoms caused by the menopause, according to current guidelines from NICE and the British Menopause Society. There are different types and doses available; if a woman has the right type then her symptoms can really improve, as it replaces the hormones that she’s missing. Many doctors now prescribe body identical hormones, which are more effective than some older types of HRT, as they have fewer side effects.”
Myth 8: Life won’t be the same again
“There are so many ways we can enjoy having a healthy menopause,” Dr Louise adds. “Eating a healthy balanced diet that’s low in sugar and avoids processed foods is really important. Finding a regular exercise that works for you is also beneficial for our hearts, bone strength and wellbeing.” If you’re experiencing bladder weakness, you can also work some pelvic floor exercises into your routine. Follow this simple daily routine from the experts at TENA Lady and you should start to see a difference within a few months.
“The menopause is still a real taboo and we need to change this by talking about how we feel and our different experiences to our friends and family. We should never feel alone.”