The truth about menopause
Menopause. Or as a close friend calls it, F#@kopause! It’s one of those words you hear whispered between women of a certain age over white wine. Or see on those funny-but-not-really posts on social media. Delegated to that obscure, hazy corner of a woman’s mind labelled ‘Old Lady Stuff That I Don’t Have To Worry About For A Really Long Time’, it slaps you in the face like a Slurpee brain freeze!
And like most other rites of passage throughout a woman’s life, it’s another of those mysteries that nobody told us about. No one sits us down and said, “Honey, just when you get to an age where you start to feel comfortable with yourself and your life, THIS is going to happen!”
Whether you’re a stay at home mum, fashion designer, check-out chick, truck driver, or sit on a high court bench, if you live long enough SHE will eventually come for you!
If you were lucky as a teen you got some dregs of information from either your mother, or from school regarding ‘lady’s things’. (Whispers behind the shelter shed are not considered information). One friend of a similar vintage, told me she and her female classmates were ushered into a dark visual aids room for a ‘health’ lesson, and treated to a video of a kangaroo giving birth. Call me crazy but I’m pretty sure a kangaroo is a marsupial, whereas a normal healthy Australian woman does not, to my knowledge, possess a pouch…
But it’s indicative of the vague, one-size-fits-all model of sex education doled out in the early 80s. And so, periods once a month as the egg is released…. blah blah, and don’t get pregnant! That’s it. If you think your sex education was scant, it’s like the whole set of Encyclopedia Britannica compared to what you’ll hear about menopause!
Statistics show that, in Australia, women experience menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, with 51 being the average age of onset. Symptoms and their severity vary, with some women barely experiencing a blush, whilst others endure the onslaught well into their 70s.
Here’s a few facts from a more reputable source: The Australasian Menopause Society (yep, it’s a thing).
- Perimenopause usually starts in a woman’s 40s, but can start in her 30s or even earlier. Perimenopause lasts up until menopause, the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs. In the last one to two years of perimenopause, this drop in oestrogen speeds up. At this stage, many women have menopause symptoms (see below).
- A woman is considered postmenopausal when she has had no periods for 12 consecutive months.
- During menopause, the ovaries stop producing hormones.
- The loss of oestrogen at menopause brings with it an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
- Between the ages of 45 and 55 women gain on average half a kilo a year(!)
You know the old saying, ‘You never know what you’ve got till it’s gone’? …one word. Oestrogen. Without her we can expect to experience some or all of the following:
Hot flushes, breast tenderness, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, decreased libido, an increase in urinary tract infections, aching joints, and mood swings. But wait, there’s more… Night sweats, insomnia, hair and nail issues, and my personal favourite: itchy or creepy crawly skin. There are more, but I’m already traumatised by your collective screams as you run for the hills…
Here is an honest and concise account of what you can expect as witnessed by yours truly:
Mood Swings: If you suffer from PMT this one is likely. I desist, but hubby says otherwise.
Hot Flushes: I personally feel like I’ve moved to tropical far north Queensland. Without the beach. Or views. While my hands and feet are still in Melbourne. In July.
Low Sex Drive: “But I’m toooo hot!”
Sleeplessness: No…I remember sleeping, once. Last March.
Itchy Skin: Weird right? But yes… itchy, and not a mozzie in sight!
Poor Memory: Worse than ever….what was I saying???
Weight Gain: Are you familiar with those stupid memes about gremlins sewing your clothes tighter while you sleep?… spot on!
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom ladies. We are lucky enough to live in this wonderful country, in 2018, and we have options. Here’s a quick summary:
Firstly, be healthy
Diet and exercise, yes that old chestnut. Believe it or not studies show that 20 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise and strength training a few times a week can help control mood, weight gain, loss of muscle mass and bone density, and the risk of coronary artery disease. So, eat fresh food, give up the fags, cut down the caffeine (arghh! No matter how bad the flushes get, I will never give up coffee!) get outside, go for that walk, and get some Vitamin D into you.
Secondly, herbal remedies
Chemists now stock a huge range of herbal remedies that can help with menopausal symptoms. Bear in mind that these usually take a month to kick in, and you may need to try a few before you find the magic potion that works for you.
Thirdly, Hormone Replacement Therapy
Also known as HRT, it is the medical replacement of oestrogen, progesterone and sometimes testosterone, to help rebalance your particular hormone cocktail. These come in pill, patch, gel and tablet form, and may have a number of associated risks and side effects, dependent on your personal medical history. There are many other prescription medications that are used to treat symptoms.
If you think you are perimenopausal or menopausal, ie. experiencing some or all of these symptoms, and need help to deal with them, do your research. Find a good GP and go armed with questions. Ask about all possible treatments and take notes. Try the herbal, over the counter remedies. Find time to exercise. Ask about HRT, weigh up the risks and decide what’s right for your circumstances. And don’t be afraid to share your experiences with other women. Knowledge is power and the sisterhood is strong!
And don’t forget the white wine.