There are plenty of questions that arise around menopause and the truth is although many things will be the same it is a highly individual process so your experience may be completely different from say your mother’s, your sisters or your friends.
There are some common misconceptions, so let’s look at them to see how true they really are,
1 Menopause always happens in your 50s
Yes for some that’s true, and in the the UK the average age for your periods to stop is 51 but that’s not the age every woman experiences menopause. Many experience it between 45 and 55 years of age, but in a minority of women it can happen as early as the 30s or as late as 60.
Also, if you have a hysterectomy that is an immediate surgical menopause – whatever your age.
2 Menopause is just a year or so in length
I hear from many women who have been going through menopause for 10 years or more, so this is clearly not the case. Menopause isn’t like starting your periods and you think that if they have stopped for a month or so then that is it.
Unfortunately period patterns can change for a number of years before they finally stop, with them being lighter or heavier and happening less frequently.
Early symptoms such as missed periods and the odd hot flush are a sign more of perimenopause, not menopause itself. This is a transitional phase and can last for years and menopause is generally counted as over when you have had 3 years period free, but again this can vary from woman to woman.
3 Hot flushes are inevitable
They are certainly a common symptom of menopause, along with night sweats, but not every woman has them or experiences them in the same way.
Some women experience hot flushes for just a few months, for others they can happen for many years. A US study looked at 225 women who’d reached natural menopause over a 16 year period. It found 80% of women reported moderate to severe hot flushes, 17% had only mild hot flushes, and 3% had no hot flushes at all.
4 Menopause symptoms are only physical
Well the easiest to identify are definitely physical: weight gain, bloating and hot flushes to name a few. However, menopause can bring about some emotional changes as well.
Low mood, anxiety and sleep disturbances are all menopausal symptoms but they are not often considered as part of the hormonal changes which are going on.
Many women are prescribed antidepressants for such symptoms, but if they are related to hormonal changes then under the recent NICE guidelines then other options should be considered.
Bioidentical combination creams with both progesterone and oestrogen are a natural alternative to the usually prescribed HRT.
5 You always put on weight
It is certainly very common, but women on a vegetarian or vegan diet for example tend not to do so. The issue here is oestrogen because at menopause instead of producing it from your ovaries your body shifts production of the hormone into the fat cells of the abdomen, stomach and thighs.
Oestrogen is plentiful the environment and the food chain and if you are already taking additional sources from HRT for example then yes you will be putting on weight.
You are also probably eating the same and exercising less but at menopause your metabolism slows down and so you need fewer calories to stay at the same weight.
Sexy no more?
This is a common misconception, women can enjoy a healthy and active sex life through their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond.
There is no doubt that sexual desire and satisfaction may be affected by the menopause as certain bodily changes, such as increased vaginal dryness, may make sex uncomfortable.
This in turn may affect your arousal, circulation and response, but so too will any anxiety or concerns you have about your body image, weight gain and your own physical attractive as you age.
Libido may decline for a variety of reasons, but progesterone can increase sex drive in women and if you also have vaginal dryness then a combination cream that has both progesterone and oestrogen will be more helpful.
You don’t need contraception
This is definitely not true as many women have found to their cost right into their 50’s. You should keep on using contraception until at least a year after your last period especially at the beginning when your period pattern is changing and you may mistake a missed period or two as perimenopause when it could be pregnancy.
This may all sound like doom and gloom, but you can do a great deal to help yourself by seeking out information on diet, exercise, supplements that can all lessen many of these condition.
If the emotional side is getting you down then speak to a counsellor, or a friend who may also be going through similar feelings, and take steps to improve your mood through therapy or just a new hobby or interest to help distract you.