Menopause is when a woman stops having periods. Menopause means ‘the last menstrual period’. It’s not only those who identify as women who will experience menopause. Some transgender men, non-binary people and intersex people or people with variations in sex characteristics may also experience menopause.
Menopause is a natural event and transition that women experience, however, the timing and symptoms are different for everyone. You can look at your family history to get an idea of when you might go through it. It’s likely to be a similar age to when your mother or older sisters started theirs.
Menopause can also occur due to certain surgeries or cancer treatments. This can sometimes cause symptoms to be more sudden and in some cases more severe.
Perimenopause is the time from the start of menopausal symptoms until after a woman has experienced her last period. Periods will usually start to become less frequent over a few months or years before they stop altogether. They might be more irregular and become heavier or lighter. For some women, they can stop suddenly.
Postmenopauseis the time after a woman experiences her last period. A woman is said to be postmenopausal when she has not had a period for 12 months.
Perimenopause and menopause are a natural part of a woman’s life course and usually occur between the ages 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman’s oestrogen levels drop (although it can start earlier). In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51.
Life doesn’t have to be put on hold because of menopause. There’s a lot that can be done to help manage symptoms, including making healthy lifestyle choices, trying different treatments and seeking support from healthcare professionals.
Symptoms of menopause
Most women will experience menopausal symptoms. Some women will experience few, or no, symptoms. But for some, they can be quite severe and have a significant impact on everyday life.
The first sign of menopause is usually a change in the normal pattern of your periods. You may start having either unusually light or heavy periods.
The frequency of periods may also be affected. They may occur every two or three weeks, or they might not occur for months at a time. Eventually, periods will stop altogether, although for some women other menopause symptoms may continue.
Some women can start experiencing symptoms such as migraines, irritability and low mood especially around the period time, without seeing irregularity in periods.
There are many menopausal symptoms and symptoms can differ between individuals. Some of the most common symptoms include:
It’s important to get healthcare advice around menopause treatments so that you can make the decisions that are best for you.
If you or someone you know does need help to manage symptoms, support can be accessed through your GP practice.
Your healthcare professional can talk to you about treatments and work with you to explore lifestyle changes if you have menopausal symptoms that you feel are interfering with your day-to-day life. These include:
hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
vaginal oestrogen preparations, lubricants or moisturisers for vaginal dryness
Menopausal symptoms can sometimes be severe and they could impact day-to-day life. There is help available if you need it.
Living with the menopause
Menopause can have an effect on your mental health and wellbeing. Some of the symptoms might include irritability, depression and anxiety. Lack of sleep caused by menopause can also have an impact on a person’s mood and how they feel.
If you or someone you know is suffering from any of these symptoms and it’s having an impact on day-to-day life, discuss it with someone from your local GP practice and they can help you get the support you need.
Some people find it hard to manage menopause symptoms at work. It’s important to remember that the menopause is a normal time in women’s lives and that support should be available to help you feel comfortable at work.
Menopause symptoms such as vaginal dryness or pain, reduced sex drive or discomfort during penetrative sex might have an impact on your sex life and relationships.
There are treatment options available that might help ease or manage some of these symptoms. It might also be helpful to discuss how menopause is affecting you with your partner. By helping them have an understanding of what you’re experiencing, they’ll be more aware of how they can support you.
If you know someone around you is going through menopause, you can let them know that you’re there to support them. Ask them what you can do to help, or just ask them how they’re feeling. People might not always feel comfortable discussing all of their symptoms, but it’s still important to let them know you’re there for them.