The menopause occurs in all women and is a natural stage of life which happens as the levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone reduce. Some women experience a more sudden menopause following surgery if the ovaries are removed. Individual experiences of the menopause differ and the decision on how women manage this will depend on a number of factors including:
- age of menopause;
- the presence of symptoms;
- how these affect quality of life, and
- osteoporosis risk.
Some women prefer to take a more natural approach to menopause management whilst some women will choose to go on to hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
In all women dietary and lifestyle measures play an important part during menopausal years, in reducing symptoms and promoting general wellbeing, also in reducing the risks of heart disease and osteoporosis. Women should therefore ensure that they have adequate exercise and a healthy well-balanced diet as part of menopause management.
The average age of the menopause is 51 years but can occur much earlier or later. Menopause occurring before the age of 45 is called an early menopause and before the age of 40 is a premature menopause.
Menopausal symptoms, which affect about 70% of women, are thought to be due to the changing hormone levels, particularly oestrogen, but many other factors such as diet and lifestyle, exercise and other medications can also influence symptoms.
Therefore, for some women, lifestyle factors such as stopping smoking, eating healthily, reducing caffeine, reducing alcohol intake, reducing stress and taking regular exercise can considerably help the symptoms of the menopause. For others hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be beneficial and indeed menopausal symptoms are the main reason for using HRT. There are a range of menopausal symptoms, these include:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Joint aches
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Passing urine more frequently by day and night
Long-term effects of reduced oestrogen levels can impact on the skeleton and the cardiovascular system.
Although bone loss occurs in both women and men, the loss occurs more rapidly and is more common in women, mainly due to menopause.
General factors which can help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis include:
- Stopping smoking
- Limiting alcohol intake (keeping below 14 units per week)
- Avoiding excess caffeine by limiting tea / coffee / fizzy drinks
- Taking regular weight bearing exercise, such as walking
- Having a healthy, varied, well balanced diet which is rich in calcium, e.g. from dairy products, green leafy vegetables and oily fish.
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD): as oestrogen levels fall the protective effect on the heart is lost and changes occur which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
Risk factors for CVD: -
- Being overweight – obesity is more common in women than in men after the age of 45 and during the menopause there is a change in body fat distribution with the “pear” shape changing to the “apple” shape which can increase the risk of heart disease.
- Blood pressure - high blood pressure (hypertension), is a major risk and control of this helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Cholesterol – menopause is associated with a gradual increase in cholesterol, particularly the “bad” cholesterol which can increase the risk of heart disease.
Reducing the risks of CVD: -
- Stop smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight – eat a healthy, varied, well balanced diet, low in fat, high in fibre and include fruit / vegetables every day.
Talking about the menopause
Sometimes people do not disclose their menopausal symptoms at work, for example, this can be because:
- their symptoms are a private and/or personal matter
- they are afraid their symptoms will not be taken seriously
- their symptoms might be embarrassing for them and/or the person they would be confiding in
- they do not know their line manager well enough
- they are wary because their line manager is a man, or younger or unsympathetic
- they are concerned that their job security and/or chances of promotion will be harmed
If you would like to chat about how you are feeling:
- Catch up with others at our Chat about Menopause.
- Contact the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
- Have a conversation with your manager or HR Business Partner.
- Talk to your GP.
Additional information can be found at NHS website