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Symptoms of menopause and treatment

What are the first symptoms of menopause?

"The menopause is a natural process which is essentially when a woman stops having periods for over a year, so can no longer get pregnant naturally. It usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average age in the UK being 51.

"The first symptom is usually a change in the nature of your periods - and how often you get them - over a few months or years before they stop completely.

"Other common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, vaginal dryness, difficulty having sex, skin and hair changes, a change in mood and libido. You may also experience a change in your concentration or memory loss and joint stiffness.

"Whilst most women will experience some menopausal symptoms, the severity and duration really vary from person to person. Women usually experience symptoms for 4-5 years after their last period - although they can last longer," Dr. Shree explained.

What are the symptoms of early menopause?

"Around 1 in 100 women go through menopause before the age of 40 - this is known as premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency. The symptoms of early menopause are essentially the same but happen earlier than expected.

"Sometimes you can go through premature menopause after operations such as hysterectomy, or cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. It can also stem from underlying medical conditions such as Addison's disease, or a family history of early menopause," she continued.

How long do the symptoms of menopause last?

The short answer is that it varies, depending on the individual. Dr. Shree told HELLO!: "Whilst most women will experience some menopausal symptoms, the type of symptom, severity, and duration really varies from person to person. Women usually experience symptoms for 4-5 years after their last period - although they can last longer."

How does menopause affect your general wellbeing?

The British Beauty Council conducted an insightful paper that explores the impact of beauty on mental wellbeing, and there's a whole section dedicated to menopause. The paper states that almost a third of working women in the core 'menopause age' (aged between 50 and 64) are having to reluctantly take time out of the working week to alleviate menopausal symptoms. Across the year this mounts up to over 24 hours which has a potential productivity loss, across the UK female workforce of 14 million working days. A blind trial, carried out on 50 participants aged between 45-65 years, demonstrates that therapeutic craniofacial (head and face) massage constitutes a complementary and valid therapy-based therapeutic option for clinicians in the treatment of different symptoms that occur in the climacteric period. For example, myofascial release (honing in on contracted muscles and connective tissue, stretching and restoring motion), deep tissue massage, and lymphatic drainage has proven to deliver serious results.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

Irregular periods: These are among the earlier symptoms of menopause. As Dr. Shree mentioned above, this can last for years before they stop completely.

Hot flushes: Women may experience sudden feelings of heat, usually in the face, neck, and chest. They can be triggered by spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol.

Night sweats: Hot flushes that occur at night are thought to be caused by changes in hormone levels affecting the body's temperature control.

Difficulty sleeping: Night sweats are often the culprit.

Fatigue: Menopausal fatigue could be the result of changes in the levels of hormones like estrogen, progesterone, thyroid hormones, and adrenal hormones which regulate energy. It's also not helped by the fact women struggle to sleep.

Changes in libido: Reduced libido can be caused by a drop in estrogen, but some women have reported an increased sex drive.

Problems with memory: Caused by fatigue and hormonal changes, forgetfulness is a common symptom of menopause.

Difficulty concentrating: This is thought to be caused, again, by decreasing estrogen levels.

Vaginal dryness: Changing estrogen levels can cause a lack of natural vaginal lubrication, causing discomfort, itchiness, and even pain during sex.

Headaches: Tend to affect those who suffered with them during their periods. The NHS website explains: "Headaches usually worsen as you approach menopause, partly because periods come more often and partly because the normal hormone cycle is disrupted."

Mood changes: Some women experience mood swings (more extreme than those experienced during your period), low mood, and anxiety.

Heart palpitations: An irregular heartbeat or increased heart rate may be caused by changing hormone levels.

Anxiety: The fluctuation of estrogen and progesterone can cause anxiety.

Joint problems: This includes stiffness, aches, and pains in the joints caused by decreasing estrogen levels and inflammation.

Reduced muscle mass: Women tend to lose muscle mass and gain abdominal fat around menopause.

Weight gain: Caused by hormonal changes, weight gain during menopause is especially common around your middle.

Recurrent UTIs: Menopause causes hormone changes that can increase your risk of urinary tract infections.

Incontinence: The NHS reported in 2017: "Up to 70% of women relate the onset of their urinary incontinence to their final menstrual period."

Bloating: Bloating is an early sign of menopause.

Digestive issues: Aside from bloating, this includes nausea, abdominal cramps, constipation, diarrhea, and more. The problems arise from increased cortisol.

Hair loss: Oestrogen and progesterone levels decrease resulting in hair growing more slowly and becoming thinner. Age is also a factor.

Itchy skin: Thin, dry, and itchy skin can be the result of lower estrogen levels impacting collagen.

Tingling extremities: A tingling or numb sensation in your fingers and toes may be caused by estrogen levels affecting your central nervous system.

Sore breasts: Similar to pregnancy symptoms, sore or tender breasts can happen around menopause.

Gum problems: They can cause a metallic taste in your mouth.

Burning tongue: Decreased levels of saliva, likely due to reduced levels of estrogen, can lead to the sensation of a burning mouth, including the tongue, lips, and roof of the mouth.

Feeling dizzy: Experiencing dizzy spells is supposedly associated with a drop in your estrogen levels.

Brittle nails: Weak, brittle nails that break easily is associated with lower estrogen levels weakening the keratin layer and dehydration.

Body odor: It is said that hormones have scents, which is why you may notice a change in your body odor during and after menopause – similar to pregnancy.

Depression: Hormonal fluctuations put women at a higher risk of developing depression.

Panic disorder: While they're not thought to be a common symptom, panic attacks can be caused by a combination of other symptoms such as anxiety and palpitations.

Electric shocks: They are due to the inappropriate firing of neurons, often around hot flushes.

Allergies: Hormones and the immune system are closely linked, so women may notice allergies or intolerances during or after menopause.

Osteoporosis: Women may have an increased risk of osteoporosis, which causes the bones to crumble and become fragile, after menopause as bone density can drop by up to 20%.

How can you treat the symptoms of menopause?

According to Dr Shree, treatments can depend on factors such as age and lifestyle.

She said: "It's worth seeking advice from your doctor if you are finding the symptoms difficult to manage or overwhelming, particularly if you are experiencing symptoms before the age of 45. In some cases, the symptoms can be severe enough to affect your day-to-day activities.

"You may be asked to take a blood test to check your hormone levels before treatment is discussed with you. We may initially consider lifestyle and dietary changes, with regular exercise and lubricants to help with sex, but if this doesn't work, we may also consider medications.

"We'll also look at holistic and natural supplements before considering hormonal medications. Treatment can range from medications such as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), vaginal estrogen creams, behavior therapy. At this point, you may be referred to speak to a Gynaecologist and we will take into account any medical conditions or treatments you are currently taking."

The NHS also suggests wearing light clothing and taking a cool shower for hot flushes, trying yoga for mood changes, over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers for vaginal dryness, and eating plenty of calcium-rich foods for weak bones.

Dr. Shree Datta, gynecologist for intimate wellbeing brand INTIMINA