What is Menopause
The definition of menopause is the absence of periods for 12 months. The average woman in the UK will experience menopause around 51 or 52 years of age. This can vary of course, depending on familial trends and ethnicity. The vast majority of women will experience their last period at age 50.
It is important to find out more information about menopause. This is because some women experience early menopause when they stop having periods under 45 years of age. This is considered early and is referred to as premature menopause. When cessation of periods is experienced sooner, i.e. under 40 years old, then this is defined as Premature Ovarian Failure (POF) or Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI).
Unfortunately, the definitions of menopause do not really tell us what is about to happen and what the implications of our hormones ceasing to function are. It tells us nothing about the bearing of menopause on our future health. Most of us see it as freedom from periods and the need for contraception.
If we do not get hot flushes or night sweats, we feel we have sailed through. Sail through we all will, but we need to be aware of the possible health disadvantages we may face as a result of the decline of our female hormones. There is a lot that is not common knowledge about menopause. It can be quite intimidating for women to experience changes in their bodies that they cannot explain.
Hence, if you are unsure about any symptoms you are experiencing, consult your GP or local menopause clinic for expert information on your hormonal changes and what options are available to you.
Signs and Symptoms of Menopause
The signs and symptoms of menopause, whether it is early or at the expected age, are exactly the same. These include:
- Lack of or increased libido
- Sluggish bowels
- Cystitis and recurrent UTI
- Symptoms of vaginal prolapse
- Vulval Dermatitis/Lichen Sclerosus
- Night sweats
- Hot flushes
- Erratic, infrequent light or heavy periods before ceasing
How Long Does Menopause Last?
The real answer to this question is … forever … because we will never get our periods back once they have stopped for 12 months. If you do get any vaginal bleeding after 12 months of stopping periods, then please get in touch with your GP. This is because it may be a sign of a change in the lining of the womb. Remember that it can be normal to experience light spotting or a bleed initially if you start HRT, but your doctor will guide you on this.
So, the real question you should be asking is: how long do the symptoms of menopause last? This relates to symptoms that we are conscious of such as night sweats and hot flushes. These are called vasomotor symptoms and last on average two years.
It is important to understand all menopause information and, in particular, that relating to the symptoms you may be experiencing and the queries you have about what you can expect after menopause.
The Long-term Effects of Menopause
The effects of menopause cannot be reversed and you may not be aware of certain changes that are happening within your body. It has been observed that:
- Bone density will decline by 5 per cent in the first year of menopause and 1 per cent every year after that.
- The risk of strokes and heart attacks in women will increase after 50 years of age.
- Vaginal lining will become dysfunctional over time and lead to dryness, and possibly painful sex, as well as recurrent urinary tract infections.
- The vulva may become more sensitive and itchy leading to a condition called lichen sclerosus, which then requires lifelong management with steroids and emollients (vigilance for any precancerous changes has to be maintained).
- Overall, skin will become more thin and prone to damage both from minor trauma and UV light.
In effect, we will have to decide how we are going to live our post reproductive life. It is important to measure what we can put in place as a preventative therapy, which includes a healthy lifestyle, nutritious and balanced diet, and making strategic use of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and Bioidentical Hormone Therapy (BHRT).
HRT is the replacement of the key female hormones Estrogen and Progesterone in order to treat and prevent the negative effects of the menopause mentioned previously.
The aim is to prescribe hormones that are body identical/bioidentical i.e. resemble our natural hormones and hence have least potential for side effects (read more).