Half of the world’s population are women and surprisingly men know very little about the female monthly cycles and menopause. Even more surprisingly many women don’t know much about menopause either, but things are changing and women are becoming more informed about what they might expect. Menopause can be a rough ride for many women, and because you care about the women in your life, it’s really important that you are aware of these changes as they will probably affect you in some ways too. Menopause can be a difficult time and can put pressure on your relationships, whether personal, social or at work. Learning about menopause and what the women in your life might be going through is the first step in supporting them.
So, let’s cut through the taboos and get to some straight talk about this natural phase in a woman’s life.
What is menopause?
‘Menopause’ is essentially when a woman’s ovaries stop producing eggs, hormone levels drop and she will stop having periods - but there’s lots more to it than just that!
Changes in hormone levels can start to happen up to 10 years before the last menstrual period. This phase is called the ‘peri-menopause’. Don’t assume that because the woman in your life is only 43 she is too young for this, think again! She may be experiencing symptoms that she doesn’t even recognise, so be prepared for the long haul!
The phase after the ‘peri-menopause’ is the ‘post-menopause’, this is essentially one year after the last menstrual period and beyond. This doesn’t mean that symptoms may stop, they can continue for many years after this time.
The average age of a woman’s last menstrual period is around 51 or 52, some women will have their last period in their 40s and about 1% will see their last period before they reach 40. This is called premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency.
It's not just hot flushes!
A woman may experience a multitude of symptoms which can affect work, home life and relationships. Here are just a few of the symptoms the women in your life might be experiencing:
Brain fog: Forgetting things, unable to concentrate, generally feeling fuzzy
Anxiety: Feeling nervous/tense, feelings of panic, danger or doom, breathing rapidly, loss of confidence
Hot flushes: A sudden intense feeling of heat usually in the face, neck and chest, resulting in sweating and becoming red (this can be very embarrassing)
Night Sweats: Intense heavy sweating can leave a woman soaked and having to get up and change her bed sheets/night clothes
Disturbed sleep: Usually waking up during the night many times or not being able to get back to sleep
Lethargy: Feelings of constant, intense tiredness and drained of energy
Irritability & Rage: Mood swings can be sudden, and women can feel like they are not themselves. They can become very tearful.
Change in body shape: Women can gain weight around the middle which can be difficult to shift, which can severely affect their body confidence.
Low libido: Not interested in sex, finding it difficult to get pleasure from intimacy and sex.
Vaginal dryness: The vagina and genital area can become very tender to touch and sometimes bleed. Having intercourse can be very difficult and painful.
Bladder problems: Women can need the toilet more often and can be prone to urine infections.
A cocktail of these symptoms can affect sexual relationships, and relationships with colleagues, friends and family members.
Not all women will experience symptoms, some may experience mild symptoms whilst others may have severe symptoms.
With regards to your partner, it is important to encourage your partner to talk about how she is feeling (pick a calm moment), so you can work through things together. For more on how to support your female colleagues, see our article on Understanding Your Female Colleagues.
Check out our other articles to get a full understanding of what the Menopause means for many women AND men.