We all hear stories from our relatives and friends about the menopause, but no one can tell you what you will experience as it is different for everyone.
Irregular periods, hot flushes and sweats are usually the first signs that the menopause has begun. Other symptoms include sleep disruption, loss of sex drive (libido), vaginal dryness, urinary problems, joint and muscle aches, changes in skin and hair, weight gain, mood swings, anxiety, depression, racing heart and poor memory and concentration.
Approximately one third of women have no symptoms. However, most have at least two or three years of hormonal chaos as oestrogen levels decline before the final period and even then the symptoms can continue. Not only can the physical symptoms cause distress, the emotional turmoil associated with mood swings, anxiety and depression can significantly affect your life and that of those we love.
So, what can be done to improve how we are feeling?
There are several conventional approaches to be considered. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is commonly prescribed and for some is very effective. However, this is not suitable for anyone with a history of breast cancer, endometrial cancer, severe liver disease, Hypertriglyceridemia, thromboembolic disorders, undiagnosed vaginal bleeding or endometriosis. If you are unable to take HRT it may be that a low-level antidepressant might be prescribed to stabilise your mood. Other conventional treatment includes oestrogen creams that may counteract vaginal dryness, or a variety of medications that may stabilise heavy bleeding.
For those that are more interested in a natural approach the first thing that needs to be thought about is our health and energy levels as we enter the menopause. My experience is that the more depleted a woman is when the changes occur, the harder she will find it to cope with the symptoms. It is therefore important to eat a well-balanced diet with a good variety of fruit and vegetables, and to reduce or cut out potential hot flush triggers such as spicy foods, coffee, smoking and alcohol. If night sweats are avoided, then sleep is more constant which may help balance mood and generally improve energy levels.
Regular exercise, such as walking, jogging or running, plus weight bearing activities not only make women feel better but help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
You only have to search the internet for a list of supplements that may benefit a variety of symptoms. For example, Black Cohosh and Flaxseed are reported to help with hot flushes, Calcium to prevent loss of bone density or Ginseng to boost mood. Some of what you find will have evidence to support their claims, but how you might benefit will be very individual.
I have recently become aware of a website called Henpecked which has a huge amount of practical information on coping and adjusting life to cope with all aspects of the menopause. I was particularly impressed with the positive way it presents lifestyle changes that are doable, such as a small change in diet, or the way in which we exercise that can make a difference.
There is a fair amount of research into whether acupuncture can help with menopause with various results. Most recently, the BBC shared some research published by BMJ Open that suggests acupuncture for menopause may be worth considering. Personally, I have treated a number of menopausal women with acupuncture for mainly heat symptoms, fluctuating mood and sleep. All of which have reported a benefit with regular treatment. Unlike a trial where everyone receives the same treatment, in practise, each acupuncture patient receives a treatment tailored to her symptoms.
However you decide to proceed, if you are feeling isolated or just totally fed up, it is important to talk to someone; whether it be with family, friends, your GP or through forums, and to get the help that you need and deserve.
To find out if acupuncture might help you, please call 07941 567053 to chat or arrange a free 30-minute consultation.
All the best
BMJ Open https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/9/1/e023637
British Acupuncture Council https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/