What do you need to know about the menopause?
The menopause is the natural process women go through as they reach a certain age and signals the point when a woman’s monthly periods have come to an end.
Although reaching the menopause technically means you have had your last ever period, we often use this phrase to describe the lead up to your periods stopping. Periods rarely just stop suddenly, many women experience irregular periods for some time. This might include heavier, more painful periods or lighter, less frequent ones – these patterns can go on for a number of years. Every woman is different but you are generally considered to be fully through the menopause after not having a period for at least two years.
Alongside the often irregular periods, many women often experience a whole number of symptoms in the lead up to the menopause as oestrogen begins to drop, this can be anything from hot flushes to joint pain.
On this page I give a quick overview of what the menopause involves and specifically the effects it can have on the menstrual cycle. Visit A.Vogel Talks Menopause for more in-depth information and video blogs from our menopause expert Eileen.
Cause of the menopause
A number of hormones are responsible for initiating your menstrual cycle each month. These are controlled by other hormones which are released from the pituitary gland in the brain. When a woman reaches a certain age, your pituitary hormones begin to decline, which in turn means that the ovaries stop producing their sex hormones as efficiently – this means ovulation will stop. As ovulation stops, so do your periods.
However, this process often happens very gradually and hormone fluctuations along the way are common – this means the irregular periods and other symptoms as described below are often a part of the experience.
Symptoms of the menopause
As the decline in hormones oestrogen and progesterone during the menopause is typically quite a gradual progress, it often involves fluctuations along the way. As a result of these fluctuations, a number of symptoms can arise:
- Heavy periods, with a shorter cycle – As a result of the fluctuating hormones, and higher levels of oestrogen your periods might become heavier and come more often than every 28 days.
- Irregular periods, lighter flow – Irregular periods are common in the lead up to the menopause. Your periods may become lighter and disappear for weeks or months at a time
- Hot flushes and night sweats – Hot flushes and night sweats are common symptoms in the menopause. It isn’t exactly clear why this happens but it is thought that fluctuating levels of hormones somehow interact with the temperature control centre in the brain, the hypothalamus
- Weight changes – Sex hormones can influence other hormones which are important for regulating your body weight – stress hormones and metabolism regulating hormones can easily come under fire
A number of others too! Unfortunately a whole range of symptoms associated with the menopause can crop up. Click the link to learn more.
Lifestyle factors to support you during the menopause
There are a number of easy self-help tips that you can try at home to help keep the symptoms of menopause under control:
- Diet – During the menopause even very small changes in lifestyle factors can make a big difference – for better or for worse! Try to reduce refined carbohydrates and sugary sweet treats as you can risk throwing your hormones off further, exacerbating cravings and encouraging weight gain. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals, opt for whole grain sources of carbohydrates, up your intake of omega-3 with lots of oily fish and include a source of protein in every meal
- Think about drinks – It’s not just what you eat, but also what you drink that matters. Ensure you drink at least 1.5 litres of plain, still water a day to keep you hydrated and your bowels moving regularly. Also, try to avoid sugary drinks, alcohol and caffeine as much as possible as these can put a strain on the endocrine system and make you feel anxious or jittery
- Stress – Stress can be exacerbated during the menopause so it’s important to not let it get on top of you. Practice breathing exercises, or try taking part in a yoga class after work, above all else make sure you take time out to do things you enjoy and take your mind off the stresses of modern life
How can herbal remedies help?
There are some herbal remedies which can help with symptoms of the menopause and the troublesome periods to go with them.
- Agnus castus – Agnus castus is a licensed herbal remedy used to help relieve the symptoms of PMS. In the lead up to the menopause your periods might become heavier and more painful than before due to fluctuations in the hormone oestrogen
- Soy isoflavones – Our Menopause Support contains an extract of fermented soya beans, providing phytoestrogenic isoflavones to gently support you through the menopause
- Sage – Our Menoforce® Sage tablets is a licensed herbal remedy used to relieve excessive sweating and menopausal hot flushes.
How can your doctor help?
If your symptoms are becoming unbearable and self-help tips and herbal remedies haven’t helped, it might be time to pay a visit to your doctor.
Traditionally doctors would recommend HRT for the menopause. HRT involves the introduction of medication that provides synthetic forms of the sex hormone oestrogen and progesterone. This can help with some symptoms of the menopause initially but for many women coming off of
HRT, they experience symptoms of the menopause all over again as a similar drop in hormones is apparent. HRT has also has some bad publication in recent years due to some of the associated side effects and health risks.
In some situations HRT might be necessary or recommended – speak to your doctor for more information and in order to carefully discuss and consider your options.