How to manage the physical and emotional impact of menopause

How to manage the physical and emotional impact of menopause

Menopause – the end of the monthly cycle and reproductive years – can be a daunting prospect for women. We’ve all heard about the dreaded hot flushes and mood swings. But what other symptoms should you prepare for? And how can you combat these? What are the symptoms of menopause?

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health has found 20 percent of women are fortunate enough not to experience any symptoms of menopause, 60 percent will experience mild to moderate symptoms, and 20 percent will have symptoms that significantly interfere with daily life.

Dr Rosie Worsley, an endocrinologist at Jean Hailes, says hot flushes and night sweats are the most common symptoms.

“Hot flushes can be anything from a subtle feeling of heat to an intense almost burning sensation that spreads up through the body, usually focused on the neck and head,” she says. “Most women can manage these reasonably well, but for some women, they can be very unpleasant. Night sweats can also range from being mild to drenching and interfering with sleep.”

Other symptoms can include:

  • aches and pains
  • bloating
  • fatigue
  • itchy skin
  • migraines and headaches
  • sore breasts
  • urinary problems
  • vaginal dryness
  • weight gain.

Most symptoms resolve or diminish once a woman is through the menopausal years, but can last for seven years or more.

How can I manage symptoms?

Making simple lifestyle changes such as dressing in layers or adjusting the room temperature are effective for many women, says Dr Worsley.

“For women with bothersome symptoms that are interfering with their ability to do their usual activities and enjoy life, there are a lot of effective and safe treatments available.”

Treatments include:

  • a healthy diet with plenty of grains and legumes
  • adequate sleep
  • hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • natural therapies and herbal remedies
  • prescription medications
  • reducing alcohol and caffeine intake
  • regular exercise
  • treatment to manage vaginal dryness.

Is HRT safe?

There has been lots of negative press about the safety of HRT in recent years. This can be confusing and troubling for women. Dr Worsley says the risks of HRT depend on who is using it and for how long.

“For women in their 50s within 10 years of having their last period, the benefits outweigh the risks. There is a small increase in the risk of breast cancer if HRT is used for five years or more, but there is also a reduction in the risk of endometrial cancer and osteoporotic fractures.

“For women with early menopause, particularly before age 40, it is considered safer to be on HRT rather than go without hormone therapy. This is because women who have menopause very early are more likely to get osteoporosis and heart disease as they age.”

How can menopause impact my mental health?

Menopause can affect women emotionally too. If you’ve experienced years of difficult periods, menopause may bring a sense of relief. But, it can also stir up negative emotions from the realisation your fertile years are over.

“Apart from these psychological factors, for some women, their brains are particularly sensitive to changing hormone levels. We know women are two to four times more likely to experience depression around the time of menopause, and hormonal fluctuations are a significant factor in this increase. Women who have experienced depression or anxiety in the past are particularly vulnerable to a relapse around menopause.”

How can I manage my mental health during menopause?

“Being kind to yourself is very important,” says Dr Worsley. “And having a strong support network of family or friends you can talk with and get practical support. Another good starting point is seeing your GP.”

Your GP may recommend one or more of these strategies:

  • regular exercise
  • speaking to a psychologist
  • trying mindfulness or other relaxation techniques
  • taking antidepressants
  • hormone therapy.

Speak to your GP for more advice on menopause. For clinically reviewed information on menopause, visit the Jean Hailes website.