Today on A.Vogel Talks Menopause, I'm going to be talking about 7 less well-known menopause facts that you need to know.
One of the things we've found over the years is that there are surprising symptoms and things that happen in the menopause that, very often, take women by surprise. And I know there were several things that happened to me, and I didn't realise it was the menopause until I actually started looking into everything.
So, I thought I would go through some of the things that have cropped up over the years that a lot of women might be struggling with.
1. The menopause can start earlier and go on for a lot longer than expected
Now, we've had women who thought that going three months without a period meant that they would be through the menopause. But, unfortunately, that is just not the case. The average age to start the approach to menopause is 45 to 55. But a lot of women do start earlier. And, again, if you're thinking that you're going to start the menopause at 50, and by the time you're 42, you're starting to get hot flushes and night sweats, it can really be quite a surprise and a shock.
One of the things that can be an indication, but is not set in stone, is that if you know what age your mum, or your elder sister, or your aunties, or your grandmother started the menopause then, very often, it does tend to be hereditary, and you may start around the same age as they did. But it's one of these situations whereby it's impossible to tell. We're all very, very different. And we will all start the approach to the menopause in different ways and at different ages.
The other thing that can happen is that the menopause can go on for a lot longer than what you think. There is this misconception that, once you are considered postmenopausal, your symptoms should just suddenly stop, and you'll be as right as rain right on the two-year mark (we tend to say after two years just because, in our experience, we have found that a lot of women take that long before their periods finally stop). But, again, this doesn't really happen.
Your symptoms, very often, tend to start to ease off after a couple of years without periods. But, again, it's different for everybody. We've had women come to us that are still experiencing menopause symptoms, 10 years down the line.
The only thing I will say here is, if you are still getting menopause symptoms four to five years after your periods have stopped, if they're starting to get worse, or if they suddenly appear again, then please do double-check with your doctor. Other health issues such as diabetes, low vitamin D or B12, low thyroid function, or low iron (or all of these) can cause menopause symptoms.
So, they can creep in at some point and take over. And you don't realise that maybe your menopause symptoms have stopped, and it's other health issues that are continuing with all these particular symptoms.
2. Tests to determine if it’s menopause are not particularly accurate
We are often asked, "Is there a test that can show if I'm going through the menopause?" The problem with blood tests is they do measure your hormone level, but the problem is they only test levels when the test is taken. And your hormones can fluctuate on a daily basis.
So, you could find that your periods have been stopped for a good few months. You're getting a few menopause symptoms, you go to the doctor. Tests come back and they say, "No, you're not in the menopause". So, they're not particularly accurate, and they can sometimes cause a little bit of confusion.
But how do you tell you're in the menopause? Again, it's really difficult. Usually, you would go by age – if other female members of your family started at that particular age – or you just go by the more common menopause symptoms. And, usually, that's a good enough indication that you're either approaching the menopause or you are actually in the menopause itself.
3. You can still get pregnant
We get so many women who are just amazed that they can still get pregnant through the menopause. Again, you know, some of them said, "Oh, I've been without periods for six months, I thought I would be safe."
Normally, if you're under 50, you are only considered safe from pregnancy after two years without a period. And, if you're over 50, it's usually one, although we tend to say take the two years just to be on the safe side. The number of surprise menopause babies in the UK seems to be going up!
So, if you don't want to get pregnant, it's really important to keep using some form of contraceptive until you have finally got through the two-year mark.
4. The emotional symptoms can sometimes be worse than the physical symptoms
Now, we have a menopause Facebook page and, very often, we do these little surveys. And we found in one survey that 48% of women felt that the emotional menopause symptoms that they were experiencing were far worse than the physical ones.
They can be really horrible. They can take you by surprise and you can feel totally out of control. You know, a lot of women find they get anger, they get irritability, they get short-tempered, they get fed up, they lose their interest in everything, they just feel that they want to give up on everything as well.
So, just be aware that, for some women, the emotional side of it can be that little bit worse than the physical symptoms that you're experiencing. For the emotional symptoms, very often, things like balancing oestrogen can help so, if it's appropriate, you have our Menopause Support.
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Also, loads of magnesium because will help to keep your mood level. And the flower essences are really lovely. I tend to recommend things like Emotional Essence or Female Essence just to help with these particular emotional issues.
5. There are lots of surprising symptoms that you may not know about
There can be a lot of surprising symptoms that very often don't get connected to the menopause. And women will start to experience something and go to the doctor, not realising that it's part and parcel of the menopause.
And, in our Facebook survey, we found that 93% of women were surprised by some of the symptoms they were getting. They were just not expecting them. In our experience, the most surprising one, especially at the beginning, is joint pain. Many women hadn't realised how huge an issue joint pain is in the menopause. In fact, joint pain was number three on our list of common menopause symptoms.
There's things like nausea, and another surprising one is problems with your teeth and your gums. You can get something called burning mouth; you can get teenage acne; you can get things like restless legs.
You can also get digestive problems – things like acid reflux are one of the more surprising symptoms that we find, and also cold flushes as well as hot flushes.
So, if you're in a situation where you're suddenly getting something that seems very strange for either your lifestyle or your age, it may well be connected to the menopause. And it's always worth double-checking with your doctor. Remember to tell them that you're in the menopause. Otherwise, they might not make the connection there.
6. You can feel less sociable
This was a really big surprise for us, to find that so many women felt that they wanted to just shut themselves away. They didn't want to have to deal with daily life. They didn't want to go out and meet friends, or go out for a meal, or go to the pictures, or parties.
So, a lot of women find that there is a point in the menopause where they really just want solitude and peace and quiet. I know, in this day and age, it's a really difficult situation to be in – we can't always shut ourselves away.
But, if you get to this point, then it is a good idea to look at your lifestyle, look at what's happening in your life, and maybe try to cut back in some areas, just so that you can get that little bit of extra "me" time.
7. Periods can come back
This is another one where women get so surprised. They think that, maybe, once they've missed three or four periods, that's it. But, in a lot of cases, periods can come back – we find in some instances that it can be even after a year or a year and a half.
In these situations, it tends to be your hormones are having one last fling. There might be something that has just stirred your hormones up a little bit, and you can end up having a period. It can also be that you have improved your diet and lifestyle. It's amazing how many women come to me and say they've cleaned up their diet, they're exercising sensibly, they're having rest and relaxation, and the next minute, their periods come back. This is just because you've given your body that little bit extra and it thinks, "Let's just have another little go."
It could also be due to a shock, some sort of emotional distress. It could be that you're doing really heavy exercise. I had one lady whose periods came back after she went for a bike ride, which she hadn't been on for a long time.
So, there's lots and lots of different situations that can trigger your periods. However, it's really important, if you have not had any periods for six months or more and they come back, please do get this checked out just to make sure it isn't anything else.
It could be something like a prolapse or even cystic polyps could start to develop. Or, fibroids can suddenly be irritated as you go through the menopause. So, always get this checked out by your doctor as well just to make sure that nothing else is contributing to the bleeding.
So, I hope you've found this interesting. If any of you have had really surprising symptoms or wonder if the symptoms you're getting are part and parcel of the menopause, then please do let us know. And we'll all share our tips.
What you said!
We recently ran a poll to find out if you were surprised to experience menopause earlier or whether you experienced it at an age you expected. We've crunched the numbers and here are the results.
Results: Did you start menopause earlier than you expected?
This was a very close result, with just over half (50.4%) saying that they started earlier than expected and thought they would have been older, while just under half (49.6%) said that they started menopause at an age they expected.