What is the menopause?

The menopause, also referred to as the change of life or the climacteric, is the permanent cessation of periods. It usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55.

Why does the menopause occur?
The menopause occurs because the ovaries stop producing the hormone oestrogen. This happens gradually, so periods usually become irregular initially before stopping altogether.

What are the symptoms of the menopause?
Many women have few, if any symptoms. However, hot flushes and night sweats are fairly common. Other symptoms include:
* Vaginal dryness.
* Tiredness and difficulty sleeping.
* Urinary problems.
*Irritability, mood swings and poor concentration.
* Reduced sex drive.

The fall in oestrogen levels also means that, after the menopause, women can develop osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) and become more prone to heart disease and stroke.

What can be done to alleviate the symptoms of the menopause?
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be very effective in alleviating menopausal symptoms. HRT can be taken by mouth, implanted under the skin, or in the form of a gel or patch, and preparations are available containing different proportions of hormones. HRT is only available on prescription, and is not suitable for everyone.

Is there anything I can do to help myself?
Keep active. Regular weight-bearing exercise – such as walking – helps prevent osteoporosis and improves general well-being. Increase your calcium intake by eating low-fat dairy products. It has also been suggested – but is unproven – that soya products are beneficial because they contain substances known as phyto-oestrogens that are similar in action to oestrogen produced by the body.

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