Health Wise - Everything you need to know about the menopause

As occupational health consultants, we take the health and wellbeing of our clients’ staff seriously.

Each industry will have its own specific health risks, from safety critical medicals in the construction sector to the health hazards of the waste industry or the risk of inactivity in an office environment.

We’ve also looked at the differing issues that can affect men’s health and women’s health in the workplace. In the latter, we touched upon the inevitability of the menopause, so we thought we’d go into a bit more detail.

“The Change”, “The Time of Life”, “The Big M”

We all call it by different names. But it’s an undeniable fact that all women will go through the menopause at some stage in their life.

For many women, this is a time of extreme distress and anxiety due to the symptoms that accompany it.

What is the menopause?

The menopause refers to that time when a woman’s periods stop and her ovaries lose their reproductive function.

Usually, this occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. In the UK the average age is 51 but, in a few exceptional cases, women may become menopausal in their 30s or even younger.

The menopause is influenced by a change in hormone levels. During a woman’s fertile years, her ability to produce an egg each month is associated with the release of reproductive hormones, known collectively as oestrogen. During the menopause, this stops.

Menopausal symptoms

Most women will experience some symptoms around the menopause. Their duration and severity will vary from woman to woman.

Symptoms usually start a few months or years before your periods stop and, on average, last around four years from your last period. In some cases, women can experience them for up to 12 years. 

The first sign is usually a change in the normal pattern of your periods. Eventually, they’ll stop completely.  Many women (8 in every 10) will also have additional symptoms before and after their periods stop, including:

  • hot flushes – short, sudden feelings of heat, usually in the face, neck and chest, which can make your skin red and sweaty
  • night sweats – hot flushes that occur at night
  • difficulty sleeping – this may make you feel tired and irritable during the day
  • a reduced sex drive (libido)
  • problems with memory and concentration
  • vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort during sex
  • headaches
  • mood changes, such as low mood or anxiety
  • palpitations – heartbeats that suddenly become more noticeable
  • joint stiffness, aches and pains
  • reduced muscle mass
  • recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs), such as cystitis

The menopause can also increase your risk of developing other problems like osteoporosis.

What can you do to help?

It’s not all doom and gloom though. A healthy lifestyle can minimise the effects of the menopause, helping to keep the heart and bones strong.

Many women feel that this is a good time to review the way they treat their body. Here are a few tips to give your body the easiest ride:

Diet

A healthy diet is essential at this stage: keep it low in saturated fat and salt to reduce blood pressure, and rich in calcium and vitamin D to strengthen bones. Some women take dietary supplements to help get the balance right.

Keep on your feet

Some women experience increased anxiety during the menopause. Regular exercise helps to convert stress into positive energy while guarding against heart disease. A regular, varied programme is best: try walking, cycling, swimming or running.

Stop smoking

Smoking has been shown to lead to an earlier menopause and trigger hot flushes. If you smoke you also run a higher risk of developing osteoporosis and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), which is the most common form of death in women.

Alcohol intake

The combination of excessive alcohol and hormonal instability is a risky one! Alcohol increases flushes and is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Try not to drink more than 2 to 3 units of alcohol per day, and keep at least two days per week alcohol-free.

NHS health screening services

Studies have shown that a late menopause leads to an increased risk of breast cancer. The NHS offers screening but you should also keep a check on any changes in your breasts and seek advice from your GP if they occur.

Stay calm and positive

Hormone imbalance during the menopause can result in added stress and even depression. Relaxation techniques and counselling can be very helpful in coping with anxiety.

Treatments and Therapies

There are typically two routes that you might take to offset the symptoms of the menopause. You can use either or both.

Complementary & alternative therapies

These have become a popular choice and many women use them, although limited scientific research has been done to support their effect or indeed their safety.

They may sometimes help with troublesome symptoms, but they are unlikely to have a significant impact on bone strength, the heart or blood vessels.

Acupuncture, aromatherapy, herbal treatments, homeopathy, hypnotherapy, yoga and reflexology have all been reported as being helpful in the menopause.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the most effective and widely used treatment for menopausal symptoms. As its name suggests, it is simply a way of replacing the hormone oestrogen that is lost during the menopause.

HRT aims to relieve those symptoms related to oestrogen deficiency – such as hot flushes, sleep disturbances, vaginal dryness, osteoporosis, and some mood disorders. The medical benefits of which have been proved in clinical tests.

On the other hand, some women experience unwanted side effects when taking HRT for the first time, such as breast tenderness, leg cramps, nausea, bloatedness, irritability and depression.

Usually, these symptoms resolve after a few months, but changes in type, dose or route of HRT may be required.

Concerns have been raised that HRT may increase the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and even heart disease – and for this reason, there has been much debate in recent years over HRT’s long-term safety.

Our final thoughts

Women experience the menopause in widely varying ways. Some women breeze through a problem-free menopause, but most experience some symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

If you feel that you are struggling, advice and support are widely available. The important thing is to be aware of any changes and to consult your GP for advice. Whatever the symptoms, help is available in a range of ways.

Above all, bear in mind that your health is your responsibility and that you are in charge. This is a time when your body deserves some tender loving care.

If you’d like some advice on how our occupational health services can help you support staff who are going through the menopause, give us a call.

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Categories: Health & WellbeingHealth WiseOccupational Health

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