The menopause can be confusing and distressing for many women.
So with the help of women’s health expert, Dr Marion Gluck, we’ve come up with the answers to the questions you want to know about menopause.
Menopause: Your questions answered
1. Can you stop the menopause?
In short, no. It happens when your periods stop.
You’re not diagnosed as being post-menopausal (starting the menopause) until one year after your periods have stopped.
The terms can be confusing. The word menopause literally means the stopping of periods.
Post-menopause means the stage after the moment when your periods stop. So if your doctor has confirmed that the menopause is happening to you, then you are referred to as being post-menopausal.
The menopause starts because your body stops producing the hormones oestrogen and progesterone and your ovaries stop responding to another type of hormone.
This is something that happens to every woman and it can’t be stopped or slowed down.
But there is some good news. There’s a lot of evidence that suggests the symptoms and effects of the condition can be reduced.
2. How long does it last?
Dr Marion Gluck specialises in women’s health and says: ‘The symptoms of the menopause such as hot flushes, night sweats, dry skin, etc, usually last between 2 – 6 years.
But once you’re diagnosed as being post-menopausal then you are post-menopausal for the rest of your life.
‘But there are other effects of the menopause that may continue after all the other symptoms have gone, such as osteoporosis and incontinence,’ says Dr Gluck.
3. What causes all the extreme symptoms, such as hot sweats, headaches, etc?
There are two main reasons why menopausal symptoms happen and it’s difficult to pinpoint which one causes them.
‘The extreme symptoms are a combination of things,’ says Dr Gluck. ‘It’s partly withdrawal symptoms. Suddenly our bodies are not getting the hormones that they’re used to.
‘And it’s partly the fact that our bodies have stopped producing and responding to certain hormones which triggers some of the symptoms and effects of the menopause.
‘But it’s really important to remember that every woman is different. Every woman has a different balance of hormones and therefore every woman’s menopause will be different.’
4. Why is it worse for some women?
Every woman has a different balance of hormones, so this is partly why some women have a terrible time during the menopause, and others are relatively OK.
Your body weight can also be a factor in your symptoms.
Fat cells release the hormone oestrogen, which is one of the hormones that’s reduced when you’re post-menopausal. So if you’re skinny you may be affected more than larger women.
There’s also an increased risk of osteoporosis if you are very slim or underweight.
5. Can you predict when you’ll reach the menopause?
‘Yes,’ says Dr Gluck. ‘We generally follow the pattern of our mother, so we’re likely to be post-menopausal around the same age that she became post-menopausal.
6. What does HRT actually do and why does it produce such bad side-effects for many women?
‘Regular HRT (hormone replacement therapy) replaces your natural hormones that are no longer being produced with drugs that act instead of the hormones,’ says Dr Gluck.
Because every woman has different levels of hormones a one-size-fits-all drug won’t work for everyone, and this is why some women experience side-effects of regular HRT.
Dr Gluck suggests: ‘The best solution is something called bio-identical hormones. These are natural hormones, from a plant that are exactly like your own hormones, which are a closer balance to what you would be producing normally.
‘Unfortunately, bio-identical hormone therapy is not available on the NHS. You need to see a private GP, endocrinologist or gynaecologist.’
7. Will HRT get rid of all the symptoms of menopause?
‘Yes, it should do. But you can only take it for 2 years and there are side-effects for some women.’
There is also a risk of breast cancer, stroke and heart disease for some women.
8. Are there any proven natural alternatives to HRT?
HRT doesn’t work for everyone so some women turn to natural remedies, such as herbs and vitamins.
But Dr Gluck says: ‘The only other way to help the symptoms and effects of the menopause are bio-identical hormones.
‘There are some herbs that help ease the symptoms for some women but they cannot substitute your own hormones,’ says Dr Gluck.
9. What happens when you come off HRT?
When some women come off HRT they get menopause symptoms all over again. ‘This is because you body has withdrawal symptoms from the artificial hormones that you’ve had for the last couple of years,’ says Dr Gluck.
Any symptoms that do come back should only last a short time and will then go again. If your symptoms continue after you’ve come off HRT, go back and see your doctor.
10. Will a hysterectomy affect when you’ll reach the menopause?
‘There are two types of hysterectomy: a hysterectomy where the surgeon removes just the uterus or a total hysterectomy where the ovaries and uterus are removed.
‘At any age a hysterectomy can bring about the menopause. This is because during surgery the blood vessels to the reproductive system can be affected and cause complications.
‘So, a hysterectomy could make you post-menopausal earlier than you would’ve been naturally.’