Your menopause questions answered

Your menopause questions answered
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 How can I prepare for the menopause?

Try to read as much as you can about the menopause, so that you understand the changes that your body will be going through and what symptoms might occur. And find out as much as you can about the different treatment options for managing the symptoms.

Reaching the menopause in good health will help too, so try to take positive lifestyle changes such as not smoking, minimising alcohol intake, taking regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight. These could all help prepare your body.

Why do some women experience the menopause much earlier or later than others? Do symptoms or recommended treatments change depending on how old you are when the menopause arrives?

Unless a health condition brings on your menopause unexpectedly, the age you experience the menopause is mainly determined by your genes. Early or late menopause often runs in families.  The symptoms are similar whatever your age, although the effect they have may differ. Younger women are more likely to be offered HRT, most certainly if you are under 40.

 HRT is a hot topic of debate. What’s the latest thinking?

The latest research from Oxford University found that taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for 5 years from the age of 50 could cause one extra woman in every 1000 HRT users to get ovarian cancer. The study also found that taking HRT increases your risk of ovarian cancer by 40 per cent.

When you stop taking HRT your risk decreases again. When it comes to deciding whether or not you should take HRT it's important that you and your GP look at your particular risk. If you have a BRAC gene or a family history of breast or ovarian cancers then your risk will be different to that of a woman without a family history. You need to weigh up the benefits to your day to day life against the possibility of long term health problems.

If I want to take the natural route, what would you suggest?

Not all women want or need HRT. Some women try products such as Red Clover or Black Cohosh although medical evidence for their effectiveness is mixed. For vaginal dryness, lubricants such as Sylk are useful. Again speak to your GP or a natural health practitioner for advice.

Could changing my diet help?

A healthy, balanced diet is always a good idea. Some women do find that adding soya foods such as tofu and edamame beans help them manage their symptoms. Otherwise it’s a good idea to try to include calcium rich foods such as low fat yogurt, milk and fish such as sardines. These help improve your bone health, which can decline after menopause. It’s important to keep an eye on your weight too, because your risk of heart disease also increases post-menopause.  Also be wary of foods such as spices, caffeine and alcohol, all of which may aggravate hot flushes.

What are your top tips for dealing with night sweats and hot flushes?

Try to identify the triggers to you sweats, they’re different for every woman. It may be caffeine or alcohol, it may be sudden changes of temperature or it could be a result of putting yourself under pressure. Once you have recognised these triggers, you can sometimes take steps to minimise them. Wearing easy to change layers of clothing, using natural fibre bedding and having fans or sitting by an open window may make sweats easier to cope with.

Is vaginal dryness common during the menopause? What can women do about this?

 Vaginal dryness often first occurs around menopause and can sometimes carry on for year afterwards. Thankfully there are plenty of things you can do. Non hormonal lubricants or moisturisers could help a great deal. You doctor could also prescribe local vaginal oestrogen to help combat the problem. It’s a good idea to discuss vaginal dryness with your partner, especially if it’s affecting your sex life. SYLK has a free downloadable guide on treating vaginal dryness here.

How can I help my partner understand what I’m going through?

Try to talk openly about the changes you’re experiencing and don’t always just laugh off the subject. Discuss your symptoms and how you’re managing them. Enlist support for the ‘bad days’ if you have them and encourage an honest discussion about how you feel. Point your partner towards websites if necessary for more information about what is normal during the menopause.

Does the menopause increase my risk of heart disease?

Menopause does not cause cardiovascular disease, but certain risk factors increase around this time. You may gain weight, have an unhealthy diet and take less exercise. You may also have a family history of heart disease that becomes more relevant as you get older.

A decline in the natural hormone oestrogen may also have an impact on the increase of heart disease among post-menopausal women.  Oestrogen is believed to help keep your blood vessels flexible, which in turn helps to reduce your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, which could increase your risk of heart disease.  This is one reason why women under 40 going through the menopause should consider hormone replacement therapy until they reach their 50s, unless they’re not medically suitable.

Where can I find out more?

To get a better general understanding of the menopause and what is normal, take a look at websites such as www.menopausematters.co.uk or www.womens-health-concern.org. You can also find a free downloadable guide to the menopause here.

 To discuss HRT, make an appointment to see your GP or Nurse Practitioner. It is helpful to have looked at the above websites first and have your questions ready.

If you have specific menopause questions, the charity Women’s Health Concern offers a chargeable telephone advice line. You can book an appointment for 10, 20 or 30 minutes of personal advice with a menopause specialist. You can find out more about this here.

There's more health articles and advice in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.