The menopause – Part 1: what is menopause?

The increasing number of TV programmes, articles, books, blogs and posts about the menopause is definitely a sign that it is becoming less of a taboo . Yet, the menopause is still somewhat considered an embarrassing and shameful, “illness” in our western culture.

YES, menopause is often associated with unpleasant symptoms such as hot flushes, mood swings, night sweats, vaginal dryness, skin issues, weight gain, anxiety, lack of energy, brain fog, sleep disturbances…

YES, menopause can make us feel like we are not ourselves anymore and challenge our role/status within our couple, family, workplace and society in general.

YES menopause can impact a woman’s confidence.

BUT MENOPAUSE IS NOT AN ILLNESS, ONLY A NATURAL STAGE IN A WOMAN’S LIFE. Unfortunately, as natural as this transition is, it can be accompanied by physiological and psychological changes which are not easy to live with and manage.

 So what is the menopause?

Technically speaking, the menopause is the last period. The ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and produce only very little of the hormone oestrogen. But, what we commonly refer as “the menopause” is actually the whole transition period (also known as “the Change” or “the Climacteric”) which may span over a 10 to 20 years period.

We can divide this transition period in three phases:

  • The perimenopause (when the ovaries start to produce less oestrogen) begins many years before the menopause. Some of the menopausal symptoms might appear and become more severe as the oestrogen levels keep decreasing – particularly 1 or 2 years before the last period.
  • The menopause happens when the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and it has been a year since the last period.    
  • The postmenopause is the period after the menopause. Usually, the menopausal symptoms ease gradually.   

The average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51 years old in the UK 1. Some women might experience a premature (before 40 years old) and/or sudden menopause following surgery (the removal of the ovaries), radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Sometimes the reason for premature menopause is difficult to determine: Auto-immune disease, ovaries dysfunction, genetics..?  

 

Each woman will experience a “unique” menopause: some will barely notice it, most will be affected by one or several of the symptoms mentioned earlier. As there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatment approach, each woman has to find the most appropriate therapy for her, which can be very confusing. Indeed, there is a plethora of treatments available- from HRT to a wide range of complementary therapies. Getting information from a reliable source (health professionals, reputable websites ….) will help making an informed decision.     

Remember, the menopause is not a stigma so talk about it, learn about it, learn how to recognise its signs, learn how to manage its symptoms ….

Besides, hormones are also influenced by our lifestyle and diet…so there might be some changes you can make in these areas.      

1 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/

In The menopause – Part 2 (next week) we will look into some “tips” that might help relieving two common symptoms of the menopause: night sweats and hot flushes.

 

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