A doctor recently asked whether or not I have been through the menopause. Now, since I’m not yet 40, and I was only in there because my knee hurt, I wasn’t prepared for this question and, whilst I answered civilly(ish), I did not feel very warm and fuzzy towards this doctor afterwards. At all.
After my appointment, my thoughts bounced between being offended that I might look a lot older than I am, or that I might be a lot older than I thought, and marveling that a 13 year old had already managed to get a license to practise medicine. (He did seem a bit on the young and inexperienced side, but that may be my sour grapes talking. I recall my mother telling me that, once policemen start to seem young, you know you’re getting on. I suppose the same can be said for docs.)
However, aside from the culturally-induced terror of aging and the question mark over his (in)experience, it got me thinking about the menopause, which I have to say, I knew very little about until now. My mum (the same one who thinks policemen are children) told me a while back that she hit ‘the change’ in her fifties, so I had written it off as something to think about later. Which is good, because there isn’t a lot of general information floating around about what happens and when, so I’m really not prepared to deal with it just yet. So, here are the facts I have gleaned…
Having your last period before 40 is considered early menopause, but reaching menopause anytime after 40 is common. The average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51, but the ‘normal’ age range is 42 – 56. So, there we go. At least the window is nice and flexible for us.
Now, onto the signs n symptoms. During the early stages, you might simply notice irregularities in your period timing or the level of flow you experience. Other possible signs are:
- weight gain;
- hot flashes;
- night sweats;
- vaginal dryness;
- joint pain;
- short-term memory problems;
- bowel upset;
- dry eyes;
- itchy skin;
- mood swings; and
- urinary tract infections
Doesn’t exactly sound like a picnic, does it? But, I’m sure we’ll get through this, if we all pull together! We need to share a bit more info though. All I can really tell you for sure is that the experience is going to be different for everyone. Factors affecting menopausal experience include: genetics; diet; smoking; alcohol and drug intake; previous health issues (hysterectomies, removal of ovaries, cancer treatments, etc). And here’s one that we can really address right now: our expectations. We need to talk to the women in our lives who have already been through it, and hear their stories. Not just about how their bodies reacted, but also to gain advice and useful tips on how to manage the symptoms, and on how to handle any post-menopausal health issues, for instance, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, urinary incontinence. Lots of stuff we can potentially look forward to there!
Just as is the case with periods, childbirth and breastfeeding, we’ve managed to do ourselves a real disservice, by allowing women’s health to become a taboo topic. We need to open up the dialogue and learn from the women around us. So, go on, give those experienced ladies in your life a call and ask them some impertinent questions. It might just be fun!