If you’re a woman over 40, just hearing the word menopause can get your pulse racing, bring on a hot flush and make you anxious, angry and tearful all at the same time.
Much like traumatic childbirth stories, tales of the perils of menopause are often the ones we hear the most about. While for many menopause is a hard slog, for others the symptoms are mild and short-lived.
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Here we answer some of the most common questions about menopause and offer advice to help get you through.
1. Will I wake up one day and my periods be over?
Unfortunately, no. During the year or years before your periods stop completely, you’ll notice them change – they may get shorter, longer, lighter or heavier. They can become erratic making it hard to predict when and if you will get one. You will need to wait a year until after your last period before you are postmenopausal and officially period free! If you have any vaginal bleeding after menopause, you need to see your healthcare provider.
2. Can I ditch birth control?
Not just yet. It’s recommended, if you’re under 50, to still use contraception for 2 years after your final period, and if you’re over 50, for at least 1 year. Best not leave it to chance – it has been known to happen!
3. Will my libido decrease?
If you ask around (which many of us don’t!) menopause affects everyone’s sex drive differently. For some there is no change at all; some report feeling a sense of freedom that comes from no more pregnancy worries. But for others, their sex drive is rudely swapped for the intense enjoyment of a cup of tea and a good book.
Physiologically, the decrease in oestrogen that results from menopause can cause vaginal dryness and changes to your libido (sex drive). Vaginal dryness can be lessened with an oestrogen-based vaginal cream or pessary, but having less sex drive can present more of a problem for those who miss sex. Low libido often improves over time but if you are worried it may affect your mental health or your relationship it’s best to seek help from your healthcare provider or a counsellor. There are a number of other conditions to consider and treatments that can help.
4. Wait… what was I looking for?
Menopause can cause memory loss or ‘brain fog’ and, partnered with sleep problems, you may at times feel as though you’re losing your mind. At the average menopausal age (about 52 years for women in Aotearoa New Zealand) this is highly unlikely, so don’t panic. Find ways to help you remember things: write lists, use a diary, learn new things to keep your brain active and invest in 3 pairs of sunglasses – one for home, one for work and one for the car!
5. Will I put on weight?
Not necessarily, but if you enter menopause carrying extra weight it can be a lot harder to lose than in your younger days. Your risk of osteoporosis and heart disease increases after menopause so it’s important to look after yourself. This means quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, limiting your alcohol intake and eating a healthy diet (low in saturated fat, sugar and salt, and high in calcium and fibre).
Even if you don’t experience symptoms, menopause changes your body and it can be frustrating not feeling like you’re in control. You can try some other self-care treatments like meditation, acupuncture and massage. If you have questions, talk with your healthcare provider who can offer advice, point you to support services and answer those menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) questions.
Read more about menopause.