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It's recognised that women have a more comfortable experience of the menopause when armed with the right knowledge, and when those around them are equipped to recognise the signs and provide relevant support. Increased awareness of the menopause, driven by greater media attention, is supporting the notion that women shouldn’t go through this alone.
What is menopause?
Menopause is defined as a woman’s last menstrual period and is diagnosed when a woman has gone without a period for 12 consecutive months. The process itself is explained by a gradual change in the level of hormones estrogen and progesterone. The main hormonal difference being a gradual reduction in estrogen over several years. The 'natural' age when menopause occurs is between 45 and 55. However, some women may experience this earlier or as a result of surgical intervention.
What are the physical symptoms of menopause?
Early symptoms can include physical, sexual and psychological changes. Physical symptoms can include hot flushes, night sweats, palpitations, insomnia, joint aches, and headaches.
Hot flushes are the most common physical symptom of menopause and are experienced as heat, sweating or redness. The hot flush tends to affect up to 85% of menopausal women and can vary in severity and duration. For many women, hot flushes only occur occasionally and do not cause much distress. However, for 20% they can be severe and can cause significant interference with day to day life.
What is the link between menopause and mental health?
Menopause typically happens mid-life and involves coming to terms with the end of fertility. Often women can be going through additional changes in lifestyle at the time of menopause, related to their career or their families, so when menopause comes, it can often feel overwhelming.
Psychological symptoms of menopause can include mood swings, irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, difficulty coping and forgetfulness; research has found that ~10% of women experience lower than usual moods across the menopause. These psychological symptoms coupled with the physical can impact work, sleep and quality of life.
What can influence the menopause?
Genetic factors are thought to play some role in determining the onset of menopause - for instance, it's thought that women whose mothers entered menopause at an early age are at a higher risk of what's known as early-onset menopause. But, as studies suggest, there are a multitude of factors that influence the onset of menopause and any woman's individual experience of it.
Influences on menopause not only differ from person to person but also between cultures. In the UK, North America, and Europe, there tends to be a more medical view of menopause. They talk of 'symptoms', and the menopause often has negative connotations, whereas, in countries like Japan, it's viewed as just a natural part of ageing. This more progressive view might support the evidence which shows women living in China, Japan, and India report fewer hot flushes and at a lower level than women in Western cultures.
Our Understanding Menopause Series
For our Understanding Menopause series, we are joined by Professor Myra Hunter. A clinical and health psychologist, Myra is currently a Professor of Clinical Health Psychology at King's College London.
The series is aimed towards women who are either going through or approaching menopause. However, we believe that anyone will benefit from equipping themselves with more knowledge of the topic.
We encourage everyone to join the discussion and hope this will help turn menopause from a taboo topic to a more socially acceptable and common conversation.