Until recently, the word “menopause” was rarely heard. If it was mentioned it tended to get whispered as if relating to a disease or something unsavoury. Like talking about death, another natural part of life that will touch us all, it was something that people shied away from, a taboo that was to be endured rather than openly discussed. Thankfully the situation is now beginning to change. Campaigns on TV programmes like Lorraine, Loose Women and BBC Breakfast have brought the menopause into the mainstream and given women a place to freely share their experiences and find out what they should expect. It is also something that businesses are beginning talk about too, recognising that a large section of their workforce will either have to go through it or are experiencing it at the moment. Greater understanding from employers and a willingness to help women live well through the menopause could have a hugely positive effect on their wellbeing and ability to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. While, this is a very welcome change in attitude, there is still a lot of myths and misinformation around the menopause and how best to adjust to the changes that the body goes through. This is especially true of the perimenopause, the period leading up to when the menopause begins.
The menopause begins when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to have children naturally. Menopause is reached when a woman has gone 12 months without a period. The perimenopause is the period leading up to that point, when the ovaries begin to gradually produce less oestrogen. The average length of the perimenopause phase is four years. In the last one to two-year period, the reduction in oestrogen levels speeds up, and at this stage many women begin to experience menopause symptoms, such as hot flushes, irregular periods, mood swings and difficulty sleeping. As this is a time when hormone levels are fluctuating, symptoms often don’t remain constant, but can come and go. This can be unsettling and confusing, so it’s important that women understand the process and realise what they are going through is completely normal and their body is just adjusting to this new stage of life. Also, no two women will have exactly the same experience going through perimenopause. Symptoms are likely to vary from woman to woman as a host of lifestyle and health factors will affect what happens. The most important thing is for a woman to recognise what is happening and that these are not the signs of a serious illness, but a natural process that they don’t need to suffer in silence through. Here are a few simple tips that can make the experience easier to cope with.
Take regular exercise that you enjoy
Women often find that they gain weight during perimenopause, so taking steps to combat this is helpful for both mind and body. Think about how you can easily incorporate half an hour of physical activity into your day, which raises your heart rate and gets the body moving. Exercise doesn’t have to involve the gym or joining a sports team. It can be as simple as taking a walk with friends or getting off a stop earlier on your commute to work.
Think a bit more carefully about what you eat
The other way to avoid weight gain is eating more healthily. This doesn’t mean going on a drastic diet, just try and eat more fresh produce and avoid process foods as much as you can as these often have large amounts of hidden sugar, fat and salt that you don’t realise you’re consuming. Also try not to comfort eat and find healthy snacks that you enjoy.
Get into good sleeping habits
Sleep during perimenopause can often become broken and disrupted. To help combat this, get into good habits that will help you drop off more easily. These include removing screens from the bedroom, so your mind has a chance to switch off and is not over-stimulated before you try to go to sleep. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon as much as you can. Make your room as dark as possible and find something that relaxes you, such taking a bath, reading a book or doing a few yoga moves.
Don’t let your symptoms ruin your life, do something to change the situation. Ignoring what is happening is not a good option; be proactive. It will make you feel more empowered and you will find something that works for you, even if it does take a little while to discover what mitigates your symptoms most effectively.
There is plenty of help available, you just need to ask. Your friends are likely to be going through a similar experience, so they are a good place to start. Also, don’t be afraid to seek medical advice, there is lots that specialists can do that can make a huge difference. HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), a treatment that replaces the hormones that are reducing in a woman’s body, can be taken during perimenopause and can relieve quickly most of the most common symptoms, like hot flushes and mood swings. HRT can also prevent osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones, which is common among women after the menopause. Our women’s health expert Dr Rupa Parmar, a Gynaecology GP, who is across all the latest treatment and practices, has helped hundreds of women live well through the menopause. Get in touch if you would like an appointment with her.