Navigating the Menopause Maze: 10 Things To Know

December 5, 2023

Entering the Menopause Transition is marked by unique experiences and challenges. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience or approach; it’s an individual journey through uncharted territory. In this article I aim to shed some light on few menopause truths and bust open a few menopause misconceptions so you can tackle the menopause maze with newfound knowledge and confidence.

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(1) There are different stages of Menopause

  • Peri-Menopause – Is a transition period. A sequence of hormonal events leading up to your last period. It typically starts in a woman’s 40s, but may also occur in a woman’s 30s. On average this process takes four to six years, but can be shorter, or last more than 10 years. It can be a time of turbulent symptoms – but these symptoms are temporary and typically resolve once Menopause is reached (keeping in mind how you manage your health at THIS time can very much influence your health and wellbeing Post Menopause).
    • Very early perimenopause: Cycle still regular
    • Early perimenopause: Onset of irregular periods
    • Late perimenopause: From the first cycle of more than 60 days
  • Menopause – Is technically one day in a woman’s life that occurs 12 months after her last period. The average age of Menopause falls between 48 and 52 years old, though it can happen earlier.
  • Post Menopause – The time after Menopause.

LEARN MORE about the STAGES OF MENOPAUSE.

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(2) There are more than 30 symptoms

Women can develop all sorts of symptoms and every woman will experience symptoms differently. About 20% have no symptoms, while 60% experience mild to moderate symptoms. The remaining 20% have severe symptoms that interfere with daily life. Symptoms can include (but are not limited to) things like: 

    • Anxiety
    • Breast Pain
    • Brain Fog
    • Brittle Nails
    • Depression
    • Dry Skin
    • Fatigue
    • Hot Flashes
    • Incontinence
    • Irregular Heartbeat
    • Irregular Periods
    • Itchy Skin
    • Joint Pain
    • Sleep Disorders

TIP: We’ve included a simple PERI MENOPAUSE SYMPTOM list in our QUARTERLY JOURNAL.

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(3) Symptoms can be stronger if…

If you undergo menopause that is surgically or medically induced, you won’t experience the typical ‘phases’ of Menopause. This more ’sudden’ transition can produce stronger symptoms and will almost always require Hormone Therapy.

READ MORE about SURGICAL MENOPAUSE.

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(4) Not all GPs are trained in Menopause

Surprisingly, most general practitioners lack formal education on menopause (which I find a little odd since just over 50% of the Australian population is female, and 100% of those people will experience Menopause). Seeking out GPs with a special interest in women’s health during midlife can be useful. Their expertise can assist with more accurate guidance and personalized care.

TIP: Head to The Australasian Menopause Society (AMS) to see a listing of Doctors and Health Practitioners in WA. You can also seek support from Specialist Women’s Health Centres like HERA in Mount Lawley or FitRight Women’s Health in Applecross.

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(5) It’s not the primary cause of mid-life weight gain

Contrary to common belief, research has shown that Menopause isn’t the primary cause of mid-life weight gain. Stress, poor sleep, decreased physical activity and other lifestyle factors all contribute significantly. On top of this, changes that occur due to aging can play a role. For example, fat cells expand and muscle tissue becomes less metabolically active which can lead to changes in fat storage (ie. fat storage increases around the abdomen).

It is important to note however, that the menopause transition can be a catalyst for the development of Metabolic Syndrome and Insulin Resistance – both of which can cause weight gain. Understanding these factors allows women to make informed lifestyle choices and feel more in control.

READ MORE about UNDERSTANDING CHANGES IN FAT TISSUE and MENOPAUSE AND WEIGHT GAIN and METABOLIC SYNDROME AND MENOPAUSE WEIGHT GAIN.

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(6) There is no specific test

The Menopause Transition is a complex process that lacks a definitive test. Part of the reason for this is our hormones don’t change in a nice and neat, or orderly fashion – its more like a rollercoaster with some kickbutt highs, lows and loop-de-loops. In other words, whilst women are still having periods (even irregular periods), hormone levels can vary a lot from day to day, so they are not a reliable test of Perimenopause.

Peri-Menopause may first make itself known through its symptoms, which can begin years before Menopause itself actually occurs. Keeping a close eye on symptoms can be helpful in assessing whether or not they’re tied to menopause itself, or to another underlying condition that requires careful management (ie. Exhaustion could be caused by Anemia), or even lifestyle factors that require addressing (ie. Heart palpitations could be cause by high stress and lack of sleep). You can help yourself and your healthcare professional by tracking symptoms and their severity. I recommend using our SAY YES JOURNAL to assist you in doing this.

READ MORE about DIAGNOSING MENOPAUSE and HOW TO WORK OUT IF YOU ARE IN PERIMENOPAUSE.

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(7) Menopause is not a disease

Menopause is a natural transition and a normal phase of life – not a disease to be cured. Menopause shouldn’t be considered a state of estrogen deficiency – as the term deficiency implies disease and estrogen levels are expected to decline with menopause. The evolution of menopause can be explained through something called the Grandmother Hypothesis. We have menopause because for our ancestors, having another pair of experienced hands who weren’t themselves encumbered with childbearing and rearing was useful. LEARN MORE about the GRANDMOTHER HYPOTHESIS.

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(8) HRT is now known as MHT

Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT), formerly known as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), can be the most effective way to control menopausal symptoms, while also giving other health benefits. MHT is is NOT “essential” for every woman and should be discussed with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

READ MORE about RISKS AND BENEFITS OF MHT

TIP: I highly recommend the following books for more indepth info on this topic – “HORMONE REPAIR MANUAL” and “THE MENOPAUSE MANIFESTO

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(9) There are health concerns associated with Midlife and Menopause

  • Beginning at age 30, the body naturally starts to lose 3–5% of muscle mass per decade. If muscle loss worsens (ie. due to lack of resistance training and/or physical activity) it can advance to a condition called sarcopenia (the loss of muscle and strength). This loss of strength means a loss of function, freedom, independence and vitality. Exercise (in particular resistance training) is key to minimising this age related muscle loss.
  • Perimenopause is a critical window for health. Meaning small health problems (left unaddressed) can amplify to larger health problems down the track (ie. it is a vulnerable time for the onset of heart disease).
  • Menopause brings an elevated risk of Osteoporosis, Cardiovascular disease, Diabetes and Dementia. The earlier your menopause, the greater the risk can be. On the flip side, the later the menopause your risk of breast cancer can increase. Knowing that you are at increased risk of these conditions allows you to be more proactive with your health.

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(10) Stigma and Shame need to go

Many women don’t think of Menopause as temporary – they think of it as ‘the new normal’, or ‘this is it for the rest of my life’. And that is not true. Symptoms only last as long as peri-menopause lasts. The turbulent phase or peri ends in the kinder, calmer phase of menopause and post menopause. Speaking opening about Menopause is the best way to counter stigma, shame and normalise women’s experiences. It can most certainly make us feel better and more confident.

TIP: There is also no one right way to emotionally transit into Menopause. You might rejoice, you might grieve, you might do a complicated mix of the two. You do you boo!

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Navigating the menopause maze involves understanding its stages, debunking myths, and embracing individual experiences. By fostering open conversations, seeking knowledgeable healthcare professionals and making informed lifestyle choices, you can enter the menopause transition with greater confidence.

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READY TO SAY YES TO YOURSELF AND YOUR HEALTH? OUR YES-2-YOU OFFER IS A GREAT PLACE TO START (or re-start)!

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