Menopause – your common questions answered

Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP
02 December 2020
Next review due December 2023

The menopause is a natural part of life for women. It happens when the balance of your body’s sex hormones changes, meaning that your periods end and you’re no longer able to become pregnant. It can be a challenging time for many women.

Here, I share some practical advice and tips on the menopause in response to common questions and concerns.

Woman having consultation with a doctor

When does the menopause usually start?

In the UK, the average age for the menopause to start (your final period) is around 51 years, and is usually between the ages of 45 and 55. If you go through the menopause before you’re 45, it’s said to be early menopause. Before the age of 40, it’s classed as premature menopause.

What is the perimenopause?

Perimenopause is the transitional stage when your body starts to change, before your periods completely stop. This is usually what women mean when they talk about “going through the menopause”.

Your periods may become irregular during this phase, and it’s when you’re most likely to get menopausal symptoms. This can last for several years – although it varies greatly between women, and can be as little as a few months.

How do you know if the menopause has started?

You’re not said to have officially been through the menopause until you’ve had no periods for one year. But you’ll probably start to notice in the months and years beforehand that your periods are becoming more irregular, and sometimes heavier, before stopping completely. It’s likely you’ll start to notice other symptoms too. Hot flushes are one of the most common signs that you’re going through the menopause.

How will the menopause affect me?

More than three-quarters of women experience some symptoms of menopause. As well as changes to your periods in the lead-up to the menopause, symptoms can include:

  • hot flushes and night sweats
  • disturbed sleep
  • loss of interest in sex
  • vaginal dryness and pain during sex
  • mood changes, including anxiety, irritability and depression
  • difficulty concentrating and remembering things
  • joint and muscle pains

Symptoms are different for every woman. You may find they don’t really affect you at all; but on the other hand, they might have a significant impact on your day to day life. You might have symptoms for a number of years before your final period and for several years afterwards too. Or you may only get them for a few months.

Can menopause cause weight gain?

You may have some weight gain during or after the menopause. This can be due to reduced muscle mass, which tends to happen during the menopause – and means that you need fewer calories than before. Being careful about your portion sizes and keeping physically active can help to prevent putting on weight.

I’m menopausal – why am I feeling anxious?

Many women notice increased feelings of anxiety when they go through the menopause. It might happen when you experience certain symptoms – such as feeling anxious when you have a hot flush. The change in your hormone levels can also affect your mood – and lack of sleep doesn’t help either.

Try to make sure you’re getting enough good quality sleep. You might find it helpful to do some relaxation exercises. Getting regular physical activity can also help if you’re feeling anxious or low.

What can women do to have a better experience of the menopause?

The following things may help to reduce your symptoms, as well as improve your general health.

  • Exercising regularly and eating a healthy, balanced diet, which can help to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Giving up smoking.
  • Reducing your caffeine intake.
  • Limiting your alcohol intake.
  • Maintaining a regular bedtime and making sure you’re getting enough good quality sleep.

Talk openly to your co-workers and line managers if the menopause is affecting your performance at work. They may help you explore other working arrangements that will help you to cope better with your symptoms.

Are there any effective treatments for the menopause?

  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is effective at helping to relieve many symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings. It’s important to assess the risks and benefits of taking HRT, and talk these over with your GP.
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) – a type of talking therapy – may help to reduce anxiety and improve your mood.
  • Vaginal lubricants and moisturisers, and oestrogen creams can help with vaginal dryness.
  • Non-hormonal medicines. If you decide not to take HRT or it’s not recommended for you, there are other non-hormonal medicines available to treat hot flushes that your GP may suggest trying.

Some women use complementary therapies, such as soy, black cohosh and ginkgo biloba, to ease their menopause symptoms, but there’s little evidence that they work. Different formulations can vary and they may also interact with prescribed medicines, so do speak to your GP before trying anything.

How can I keep healthy after the menopause?

Going through menopause can be a good time to re-evaluate your lifestyle and think about how to stay healthy.

After the menopause, it’s really important to look after your bones and keep them strong. Make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Include plenty of calcium-rich foods in your diet, and you may want to consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement, especially during autumn and winter.

It’s also really important to make sure you’re getting regular exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise, such as walking and jogging, as this helps to strengthen your bones.

Keep an eye on your weight, as many women find it creeps up after the menopause. Make sure you’re following a healthy, balanced diet as well as keeping active.

If you’re experiencing menopause symptoms, you don’t have to face them alone. With a Bupa Menopause Plan, you can discuss symptoms with a specially trained GP, get a personalised care plan based around your needs with access to 24/7 support via Anytime HealthLine.

Samantha Wild
Dr Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP

    • Menopause. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., last revised March 2017
    • Menopause and its management. Patient – Professional Reference., last edited 29 January 2018
    • Menopause. MSD Manual Professional Reference., last full review/revision December 2019
    • Menopause and diet. The Association of UK Dietitians (BDA)., published May 2019
    • Mood changes and depression. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists., accessed 10 November 2020

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