While menopause is a universal experience, the journey is different for each woman. From hot flushes and mood swings to restless sleep and weight gain, symptoms can be both physically and emotionally challenging. To mark Menopause Awareness Month, let’s shed light on this transformative phase of life.
It's Getting Hot In Here:
Hot flashes are perhaps the most emblematic of menopause symptoms. They affect approximately 75% of us, and are characterised by sudden, intense heat sensations. Annoyingly, they can strike day or night and on average you'll experience them for seven years (some women experience them for a shorter time, while others endure them for more than a decade). Hot flushes can vary in intensity and frequency and you happen multiple times a day.
Causes: They occur due to hormonal changes, primarily the decrease in oestrogen levels. The hypothalamus, a vital brain region that regulates body temperature, is thought to play a central role in triggering these sudden temperature fluctuations.
The Emotional Rollercoaster:
Menopause brings emotional ups and downs that can be challenging to navigate. Mood swings, irritability, and increased emotional sensitivity are common complaints among menopausal women. For some, this may be mild and short-lived; for others they will be more pronounced emotional changes that affect their daily lives.
Causes: Hormonal fluctuations can influence neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine. These play a crucial role in regulating mood, leading to mood swings and emotional turbulence.
The 2am Wide Awake Club:
Quality sleep can become elusive during menopause, with many of us experiencing insomnia and night sweats. More than 60% of menopausal women report sleep disturbances and if you do, you'll know only too well how these have a profound impact on overall well-being, affecting your cognitive function and overall quality of life.
Causes: The decline in oestrogen can disrupt the body's internal clock and temperature regulation, leading to difficulty falling asleep and frequent awakenings.
A Weighty Issue:
Weight gain is a common concern during menopause, with many women noticing changes in their body composition, especially around the waistline. On average, women gain 5-8% of their baseline body weight during this time, leading to an increase the risk of various health conditions, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Causes: Again, we can put this down to hormonal changes that lead to a shift in fat distribution, favouring abdominal fat storage. Additionally, age-related changes in metabolism can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight.
Things Cooling Off In The Bedroom:
If intimacy is the last thing on your mind, believe me you're not alone. According to the British Menopause Society, more than a third of the menopause women report a loss of sex drive. But despite these issues having a significantly impact wellbeing and relationships, very few seek help and advice.
Causes: Stress, feeling run-down, lack of sleep and feeling less attractive all play a part; as do drops in both testosterone and oestrogen. This leads to a thinning of the vaginal lining and decreased lubrication, meaning sex becomes painful and uncomfortable.
Of course, there are many other symptoms during menopause, including itchiness, dizziness and thinning hair - but do book an appointment with a sympathetic GP if you find them worrying. Understanding their causes and prevalence can help women navigate this transitional period with greater confidence and knowledge.
It's important to remember that menopause is a unique journey for each woman, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing its challenges. Engaging in a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet and stress management can significantly help. Ultimately, it's about empowering ourselves to embrace life with confidence and resilience, and knowing you are not alone. You can read more about menopause in my blog posts here.