Symptoms of the menopause
The menopause is a natural part of ageing. It usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman's oestrogen levels decline.
Most women will experience menopausal symptoms. Some of these can be quite severe and have a significant impact on your everyday activities.
Common symptoms include:
- hot flushes
- night sweats
- vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
- difficulty sleeping
- low mood or anxiety
- reduced sex drive (libido)
- problems with memory and concentration
Menopausal symptoms can begin months or even years before your periods stop. They can last around four years after your last period. Some women experience the symptoms for much longer.
When to see your GP
It's worth talking to your GP if you have menopausal symptoms that are troubling you. It is also worth talking to your GP if you're experiencing symptoms of the menopause before 45 years of age.
Your GP can usually confirm whether you are menopausal based on your symptoms. A blood test to measure your hormone levels may be carried out if you're aged 40 to 45.
Blood tests may also be carried out to help diagnose suspected premature menopause. This is if you’re under 40 and undergo menopause.
Treatments for menopausal symptoms
Your GP can offer treatments and suggest lifestyle changes - if you have severe menopausal symptoms that interfere with your day-to-day life.
- hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – tablets, skin patches, gels and implants that relieve menopausal symptoms by replacing oestrogen
- vaginal oestrogen creams, lubricants or moisturisers for vaginal dryness
- cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a type of talking therapy that can help with low mood and anxiety
- eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly – maintaining a healthy weight and staying fit and strong can improve some menopausal symptoms
Your GP can refer you to a menopause specialist if your symptoms don't improve after trying treatment or if you're unable to take HRT.
Causes of the menopause
The menopause is caused by a change in the balance of the body's sex hormones. This occurs as you get older.
Premature or early menopause can occur at any age, and in many cases, there's no clear cause.
Sometimes it's caused by a treatment such as surgery to remove the ovaries (oophorectomy), some breast cancer treatments, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or it can be brought on by an underlying medical condition, such as Down's syndrome or Addison's disease.