It’s Time to Talk About… The Menopause
The Change, The Transition, the Time of Life; it goes by many euphemisms, but it’s time to talk frankly about a condition that will affect around 50% of the world’s population – the menopause.
A third of the UKs entire female population is currently peri or menopausal – that’s 13 million women undergoing some of the biggest changes to their bodies they’ll experience in their lives, but until recently the menopause was seen as a taboo subject. Yet, with more and more high-profile menopausal women speaking out about their experiences, most recently Davina McCall in her documentary Sex, Myths and the Menopause, this seems set to change, which is a very good thing in our opinion!
What Is the Menopause?
The menopause comes in two stages – perimenopause and menopause.
Perimenopause refers to the time in which our bodies make the transition to menopause, and can happen at different ages, usually in our forties but sometimes as early as our mid-thirties. During this time, estrogen levels in the body rise and fall unevenly, we might have longer or shorter periods, and we may have cycles where our ovaries don’t release an egg.
After we’ve entered perimenopause, and once we’ve had 12 missed periods in a row, then it’s official – we’ve entered the menopause, and nobody even bought us a card. Estrogen levels permanently decrease, our periods come to a complete stop, and we can no longer conceive. This usually hits between the ages of 45 and 55; although it can happen earlier, often as a result of medical treatment such as chemotherapy.
Both perimenopause and menopause come with an array of symptoms which four out of five women will experience, and it’s not all hot flushes and night sweats. Joint pain, hair loss, anxiety, low mood, heart palpitations, memory issues and insomnia are common, alongside symptoms including vaginal dryness and pain, itching, discomfort during sex, recurring UTIs and even stress incontinence.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Dr Louise Newson, a Menopause Specialist, says that the menopause “needs to be thought of as a long-term hormone deficiency”, and HRT acts as a top-up of hormones lacking in the menopausal body; prescribed as a pill, patch, gel or spray. It’s extremely effective at relieving menopause symptoms and is recommended by the NHS as the first line of treatment.
Yet the prospect of taking HRT scares the daylights out of many women; due to widely published reports that HRT increased the risk of breast cancer by 26%. This study isn’t without its critics, though, and more recent findings have shown that for a healthy woman, the risk is 4 in 1000.
Of course, lifestyle and medical history will impact on whether or not you should take HRT, so speak to your GP and if necessary, ask for a referral to a menopause clinic.
Lubricants and Creams
We’ll make no bones about it – the menopause can be a massive blow to your sex life, causing vaginal pain, itchiness and dryness that may make it seem like sex is off the table for good. Not so! Your GP can prescribe estrogen treatments such as creams and pessaries to relieve these symptoms, to hopefully keep you just as active as you were before the menopause.
Amazingly, you can treat some symptoms of the menopause with a laser. If you’re experiencing vaginal discomfort or stress incontinence, Mona Lisa Touch laser therapy could be a long-lasting alternative to estrogen creams, lubricants, and Tena Lady Discreet. The treatment uses a fractional CO2 laser wand to directly target the vaginal walls, creating microlesions that stimulate elastin and collagen production which promotes a thicker mucosal layer for vaginal lubrication, and tones the vaginal muscles to help with stress incontinence. Get in touch with us to see if Mona Lisa Touch is a treatment option for you.
Getting the Help You Need
Davina’s documentary shone a light on the UK’s approach to treating the menopause, and it wasn’t flattering. In a survey of 200 medical professionals, 1 in 3 admitted that they don’t feel confident in managing the menopause. This is unsurprising as according to Menopause Support, 41% of UK universities do not have mandatory menopause education on their medical curriculum and GP training in the menopause is online and non-compulsory.
If you’re having difficulty in getting the help you need during the menopause from your GP, ask for a referral to a menopause clinic – there are a number in and around London – or if possible, get in touch with a private menopause specialist.
Remember You Are Not Alone
Although the symptoms of the menopause can be isolating, the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. If you’re finding it difficult to discuss your experiences with your family or friends, then there are a lot of online resources, including support groups and forums including Menopause Matters, MumsNet, and Menopause Support, where you can talk about your journey through the menopause with other people in the same boat.