Is It Hot In Here?
In Western society, the menopause used to be a taboo subject, something to be borne in silence, often being referred to as “the change”. However, during recent years attitudes have changed and nowadays the menopause is written about more in the media. As social attitudes around menopause continue to evolve it is to be hoped that there will be a shift towards valuing the experience and maturity of women as they age. Attitudes in the work place are also undergoing change as more women continue to work until retirement. Indeed, the TUC has commissioned a report specifically to deal with the issues faced during menopause by women at work. The report “Supporting Women Through the Menopause” states that the menopause is an occupational health issue that is growing ever more important. Women make up almost 50% of the workforce, with an estimated 3.5 million women over the age of 50 currently working in the UK.
Menopause usually occurs between 45-55, with the average age in the UK being 51. Women pass through 3 phases during the menopause:
- Peri-menopause – the phase leading up to the menopause and usually beginning 3-4 years before a woman’s final period. This stage is characterised by fluctuating hormones and the worst symptoms are often experienced during this time.
- Menopause – once you have had 12 months with no periods then you are technically menopausal.
- Post-menopause – Usually defined as more than 12 months with no periods.
Menopause can last anywhere from 4-5 years, but hot flushes can stick around for even longer!
Every woman is unique and the path to menopause certainly reveals just how different we are from one another. For some women, menopause causes very few symptoms – either physical or emotional. Others, however, have symptoms which may last for extended periods of time and can range in severity.
Common Symptoms of Menopause
- Irregular periods: happens during peri-menopause and periods may become longer, shorter, lighter or heavier.
- Hot flushes and night sweats: 75-85% of women report having hot flushes and/or night sweats. These can be accompanied by palpitations and are often followed by chills.
- Mood swings: anxiety and depression thought to be associated with lower levels of serotonin.
- Fatigue and sleep disturbance: Sleep problems increase dramatically during menopause with up to 63% of women suffering some form of insomnia. Anxiety, night sweats and an increase in the need to pass urine can all lead to disturbed sleep.
- Memory lapses and fuzzy thinking: These seem to get worse during menopause and may be linked to both hormones and sleep deprivation.
- Headaches: Fluctuating hormones can increase the frequency and intensity of headaches and migraines.
- Weight gain: Lowering oestrogen levels may lead to a slower metabolic rate which results in increased fat storage around the abdomen.
- Joint pain: The medical profession is still unsure exactly how hormones impact on joint pain, but it is a major factor during menopause.
What Can You Do to Survive the Menopause?
In a recent survey, 95% of women said that they would try alternative therapies before HRT, because they think they are more natural and because they are worried about the health risks associated with HRT.
Here’s a few for you to consider:
Traditional Chinese Acupuncture
In China the menopause is known as the “second spring”, with women at mid-life being respected for their wisdom and life experience.
The British Acupuncture Council cite a study by Di Conchetto (1989) to determine whether acupuncture was helpful in treating hot flushes in menopausal women. The patients were treated twice a week for 2-3 weeks, then monthly for a year, followed by every 2-3 months. Patients were followed for 2 years. Complete remission of symptoms was experienced by 20% of women on the trial. 65% had a reduction in symptoms throughout their treatment with 85% reporting “satisfactory” results. The conclusion being that acupuncture can be very helpful in the treatment of menopausal women experiencing hot flushes.
Reflexology can help support menopausal women physically, mentally and emotionally, providing a safe space in which to relax and be self-focused. Research carried out at the UK School of Complementary Health in Exeter indicated that women who received regular reflexology treatments over a four month period experienced a marked decline in anxiety, depression, insomnia, hot flushes and night sweats.
Regular massage during menopause can ease unpleasant symptoms and give you the time and space to relax. Massage increases blood circulation and lymphatic flow which can relieve headaches, cramps and joint pain. Menopause can increase anxiety, irritability and fatigue and one of the greatest benefits of having a massage every 4-6 weeks is relaxation and the chance to let go of stresses and concerns. The most important thing to remember is to choose a therapist who listen to you and adjusts your massage to fit your needs.
Talking treatments such as CBT are recognised by NICE as being extremely helpful in dealing with anxiety and depression – both common problems in menopause. CBT focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour, teaching you coping skills for dealing with the, often challenging, symptoms of menopause.
Once women reach the post-menopausal phase and their symptoms start to lessen, many find a newfound sense of freedom. No longer hampered by the dreaded monthly cramps and restrictions of having periods, they embrace this new chapter in their lives. However you choose to deal with your menopause, remember to be kind to yourself and celebrate your uniqueness.