Disclaimer: Here we aim to outline the typical symptoms of menopause and the options you have to deal with them, which will, of course, be dictated by whether your menopause was spontaneous or induced. We do not attempt to cover all symptoms or all treatment options in depth and this information should not be taken without seeking medical advice. More information can be found on our recommended websites and from your healthcare provider.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to relieving the symptoms of menopause; it’s very much an individual decision. Some women have severe symptoms, others almost none. We recommend you involve your healthcare provider in your management plan as all treatments carry potential risks.
To follow are solutions women in this group have used for the relief of some of the typical menopausal symptoms. We hope you find them helpful.
The most common menopause-related discomfort is the hot flush, where decreasing oestrogen levels affect the hypothalamus – the body’s thermostat.
- You may be able to identify certain things that set you off. Try to avoid the following: external heat, strong emotions, hot drinks, hot or spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine and cigarette smoking.
- Reduce stress via exercise, meditation, yoga, massage, deep breathing etc.
- Paced respiration – deep, slow breathing as a hot flush begins can reduce their frequency.
- Keep cool while sleeping and wear layers during the day.
- Over-the-counter remedies (herbs and supplements) have not proved very effective in studies, but many women still do find them helpful.
- Hormone therapy works in many cases, but it is not right for everyone.
- There are other prescription medications available for women who cannot or choose not to take hormones.
These are hardly surprising when you think about what’s going on with your hormones. We know that at ‘that time of the month’ PMS kicks in due to the change in hormone levels and we can become irritable, weepy and supersensitive. Well, it’s just like that with menopause. Your hormones are all over the place and you can’t help but be affected emotionally. And this is without adding the psychological impact of this diagnosis.
- Give yourself time to come to terms with your diagnosis.
- Go with the flow and don’t fight the feelings as that can make them come back two-fold.
- Seek out things and people you enjoy and avoid those that you don’t.
- Exercise can help boost your mood.
- Reach out for help – we’re here to support you any way we can.
- Talk to your health provider if you think you need some extra help out of your blues via natural therapies, HRT or other prescription medications.
Lack of sleep and low oestrogen levels can contribute to ‘brain fog’ and short-term memory loss that can be very frustrating.
- Keep lists to help you remember the important stuff.
- Try to get good sleep (see below).
- HRT can alleviate night sweats that interrupt sleep. It has also been reported to improve memory function.
If you experience hot flushes at night, more commonly referred to as night sweats, or have anxieties that keep you from sleeping:
- Exercise daily
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine
- Have a light evening meal
- A glass of warm milk may help induce sleep
- Ensure low light, noise and temperature in the bedroom
- Hormone therapy can alleviate night sweats
- Sleeping pills and herbal remedies can aid sleep
- Special nightwear is available to help keep you comfortable – check out your options online
Low oestrogen levels can cause changes in the vagina, bladder and pelvic floor. Thinning of the vaginal tissues, dryness and changes to the healthy acidic environment can cause great discomfort and/or pain and should be treated to avoid deterioration. Thinning of the lining of the urethra (the outlet for the bladder) and weak pelvic muscles can cause incontinence.
If you’re going through cancer treatment, you may find some treatments damage and irritate the vagina and cause yeast infections.
These symptoms can be upsetting to live with, but they are very common, so don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about them as there may be solutions available.
- Water-based lubricants can make intercourse more comfortable.
- Moisturisers, like Replens, are non-hormonal preparations that can relieve dryness and maintain the healthy acidic environment.
- If a lack of oestrogen has caused the symptoms, oestrogen therapy will probably help. Systemic (through the whole body) therapy may also bring relief from other menopause-related symptoms. Local therapy (creams or pessaries) do not enter the blood stream and may be more appropriate for women following cancer of the reproductive system.
- There are many causes and treatments of urinary incontinence, so have a chat with your healthcare provider.
When you look at all the symptoms, it’s hardly surprising that your sex life may be affected as well. Not only do night sweats interrupt your sleep, leaving you too tired to even think about having sex, but vaginal dryness can make intercourse quite uncomfortable. Psychologically, you may also feel ‘old before your time’ and perhaps less sexually attractive than your peers.
Women who experience early menopause are at an age when they sometimes enjoy frequent sexual activity and may be more distressed by any sexual function changes than older women. Furthermore, women undergoing cancer treatment often have additional emotional concerns that may affect their sexual desire as well as often more severe symptoms to deal with.
- Talk to your doctor about any underlying medical or psychological causes of low sexual desire. Your partner’s needs may need to be addressed as well.
- Women’s physios can help address fear and pain
- Counselling can help you cope with difficult medical or family issues and improve communication with your partner.
- If you’re not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship, be aware that vaginal atrophy may increase your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection as the tissue is more prone to tears. Choose partners selectively, use condoms and have regular medical check-ups.
Weight gain around menopause can be prevented by exercise and diet. You may have noticed a thickening around your middle that wasn’t there before. HRT has helped many of us to lose this sort of weight gain.
Cancer treatment can change the way your metabolism works, so talk to your health professional about ways to cope with these changes.
Hormones play an important role in skin health, so it is understandable that your skin may be affected around menopause. Changing hormone levels can cause both drier and oilier skin. Collagen production is also affected, causing thinner skin and the appearance of wrinkles. A small number of perimenopausal women report irritating sensations of the skin, ranging from severe itching to phantom symptoms of “ants crawling on or under their skin”. This condition is called formication.
- Oestrogen may have beneficial effects on skin (by improving both acne & dry skin and boosting collagen production), although it should never be taken purely for this purpose.
- Always use a good sunscreen.
- Hormone therapy or antihistamines may help with formication although the condition is not fully understood.