As we all know, this is the time in your life when you stop releasing eggs from your ovaries and your periods stop. This usually happens across a number of months, with periods becoming more and more irregular.
Some women go through the menopause as early as their mid-30s or as late as 60 but for many women it is around 51 years of age. Once a woman has had no periods for a year she is said to be post-menopausal.
Your ovaries are the main source of the female hormone oestrogen, and when they stop producing eggs levels of oestrogen fall. This may lead to many different symptoms, which can occur before, during and after the menopause.
About 70 per cent of women are troubled by symptoms, including hot flushes, night sweats, headaches, and lack of energy. Your skin may become drier, thinner and more wrinkled. Lack of oestrogen can cause vaginal dryness leading to discomfort during sex. In the long term, the tissues of your pelvis may become thinner and weaker, increasing the risk of prolapse and continence problems.
Now that many women are living longer, often to 90 or older, you could face 40 years of life with low oestrogen levels, which could affect your heart and bone health. Taking a positive approach to staying healthy as you age is vital.
A good balanced diet, keeping your weight under control, and regular physical activity are absolute basics for keeping healthy post-menopause, and they could help to control your symptoms as you go through menopause too.
If your symptoms are particularly distressing you may want to try Hormone Replacement Therapy or HRT. This is simply a supplement containing combinations of female hormones. While HRT can be very helpful, it can also have side effects so it’s important to talk to your GP who will help you to understand the pros and cons of treatment for you.
There are also many plant-based oestrogen-type treatments, known as phyto-oestrogens, many women use these but they have not been properly assessed and some experts have concerns about them – speak to your GP if you’d like to take a natural alternative.
Q. My bowel habits are a bit erratic – I have constipation one day and diarrhoea the next. What can I do?
Dr Trisha says: Fluctuating between constipation and diarrhoea is often a feature of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, especially if it has been going on for some time. It could also be caused by diverticulitis or chronic constipation where liquid faeces from higher up the intestines seeps around the harder stool (this is called ‘overflow’ diarrhoea ). Always get irregular bowel habits checked by your GP to rule out more sinister problems such as bowel cancer.
A healthy balanced diet is important for healthy bowel habits so try to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and lean protein. If you do have IBS you may need to play around with your diet to work out which foods trigger your symptoms. Meanwhile, some medicines can help – such as bulking agents used in constipation or antispasmodic drugs for loose motions. Your GP or pharmacist can advise.
- Dr Trisha writes a column every fortnight in Yours magazine. Ask Dr Trisha about your health problems by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.