Menopause (also known as “the change of life”) has long been the cause of a number of undignified and often distressing symptoms in women reaching the end of their reproductive life.
These symptoms may include (but are not limited to):
- Hot flushes;
- Night sweats;
- Redness of face and chest;
- Vaginal dryness;
- Mood changes & irritability;
- Anxiety/ Depression;
- Fluctuations in energy levels;
- Low libido;
- Racing heart;
- Disturbed sleep;
- Memory loss.
Yet even with all these potential symptoms, menopause is not considered an illness or a disease, but a normal and inevitable stage of a woman’s life.
For most women there is also a pre-menopausal transition that involves some of the symptoms, together with irregular bleeding.
So is it possible to take steps to better manage menopause symptoms and reduce the impacts?
Menopause: what is it?
As a woman ages her ovaries, that were the store-house for her eggs, eventually stop making oestrogen.
Oestrogen is a hormone which:
- Promotes the development and maintenance of female reproductive structures from early childhood.
- Organises fat distribution to give us our curves.
- Maintains the health of the endometrial lining of the uterus and prepares the egg to be released for the monthly cycle.
- Assists in the control of the body’s fluid and electrolyte balance so that our skin retains moisture (early use of sun screens and moisturisers delays the aging/ drying process).
- Controls the changes in our cervical mucus (natural contraception aka the rhythm method, is planned according to cervical mucus changes).
- Prepares our internal environment for fertility, making it more sperm friendly.
- Helps maintain our bone density (which is why the risk of osteoporosis is higher after menopause).
As oestrogen production diminishes, women may experience any, all, or none of the following:
- Hot flushes. These are thought to be a response to fluctuations in a woman’s core temperature from activity in the brains temperature regulator – the hypothalamus. This is probably the most common and distressing symptom, and includes facial flushing, fast heartbeat and sweating. The social stigma and embarrassment of these symptoms can cause concurrent emotional distress to women, as the symptoms cannot be controlled or anticipated.
- Night sweats and poor sleep. The hormonal influences cause profuse sweating at night and disturbance to quality of sleep. Adequate melatonin and progesterone levels should be checked with a doctor, to facilitate better sleep. Avoiding chemical and food stimulants and adjusting the environmental temperature can provide comfort and reduce other contributing factors.
- Anxiety/ Depression/ mood. Emotional health is very important; women are particularly vulnerable to changes to their emotional wellbeing due to the hormonal influences around menopause. Half of women will likely experience mental health issues during their menopause transitions. Professional help is available to help cope with emotions and fears associated with the physical changes. Counselling is helpful to manage strong emotions and explore coping strategies; there are numerous resources available in menopause symptom management.
- Low libido and vaginal dryness. Whilst hormonal influences do play a part in low libido, other factors may also be responsible. Relationship influences, psychological or emotional issues, expectations and perceptions around what is normal sexual intimacy, as well as a woman being out of touch with her sexuality, can all contribute to a loss of interest or desire. Professional support from an intimacy counsellor to address communication and psychological factors, and medical assessments to rule out physiological factors, should be considered.
Help for Menopause
Medical assessment and support is a valuable part of managing menopause, and for some women treatments such as hormone replacement therapy, smoking cessation support, dietary advice, counselling and physical therapy may be appropriate.
In conjunction with medical advice, adjustments to diet and lifestyle can help the menopausal transition and support your own hormonal balance.
Here are some helpful tips to help you with managing menopause:
- Fibre rich diet including 2 serves of fruit and five of vegetables each day.
- Increase intake of the healthy fats found in nuts and seeds.
- Drink at least 1-2 litres of water daily.
- Increase exercise and keep active (10,000 steps daily).
- Limit salt and saturated fat intake.
- Reduce or avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Quit smoking.
- Engage in stress management activity such as meditation, prayer, dance, yoga, singing, laughter, deep breathing.
- Acupuncture treatments.
- Discuss supplementation with your naturopath, particularly omega oils, folic acid, B complex and minerals such as magnesium, calcium and zinc.
- Herbal remedies such as dandelion, red clover, black cohosh, evening primrose oil can be helpful in managing menopause symptoms.
- Air conditioning and other portable personal cooling devices.
Author: Julie Fickel, RN, PG Cert Health Science, PG Diploma Midwifery.
Julie Fickel is a midwife with a passion for supporting women and their partners.
With over 20 years in family health, Julie has developed skills around communication and supporting individuals and their families to cope with change, grief and loss; fostering resilience during times of crisis or distress and more recently trauma therapy. She worked for Lifeline as a telephone counsellor, and group trainer for 3 years, as well as facilitated women’s recovery ministry groups while studying pastoral care.
Julie has extensive experience in counselling couples in pregnancy, parenting and partnering. She has a special interest in perinatal women’s issues with additional training at Griffith University to provide counselling for pregnancy, parenting support, perinatal mental health (depression and anxiety), and perinatal trauma.
Please note: Julie Fickel is currently not practising