It’s Menopause Awareness Month and we’re tackling the questions you may want to ask your GP about the menopause. In this series, our Group Medical Director and practicing GP Dr Rebecca Brady helps answer some of the questions you might be thinking about asking when it comes to the menopause.
Q: My periods have stopped – am I going through the menopause?
A: It depends on how long your period has stopped for. Menopause, as defined by the World Health Organisation, begins after a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months.
However, hormonal fluctuations can start many years before that, the symptoms of which you may be experiencing, including changes in your menstrual cycle. The average age of the menopause is 51 but some women will go through the menopause at 45 or even sooner – 1 in 100 women will go through the menopause before the age of 40.
Fluctuations in hormones can happen for several years before you reach the menopause, and this is known as the perimenopause. It’s not uncommon for women to start experiencing symptoms in their early 40s which can affect physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing.
It’s often an imbalance of hormones, with a decline in oestrogen levels rather than an absolute lack of hormones which results in many of the symptoms experienced in the perimenopause. Oestrogen receptors (present in follicle and oocyte growth and development, as well as ovulation) are present in every tissue of the body so it fits that the whole body can be affected by changes, as oestrogen levels decrease. This can include:
- Changes in regularity and flow of period
- Vasomotor symptoms, otherwise known as hot flushes night sweats or cold sweats
- Skin symptoms including hives, dry itchy skin, hair and nail changes
- Changes in mood, for example, feeling low or anxious
- Brain fog (confusion, forgetfulness, unable to think clearly, lack of concentration)
- Stiff and/or painful joints, back pain, neck pain
- Worsening migraines or headaches
There are over 30 symptoms characterised as being signs of the perimenopause. But some people may experience very few. If you’re concerned about symptoms or need help and advice, talk to your GP.
If you’re an employer looking to provide menopause support as part of your employee health and wellbeing strategy, speak to one of our experts who will be happy to help.
If you’re an employee who would like to see your workplace provide menopause support, let us know!