Body

What every woman needs to know about menopause

If you’re a woman over 40, just hearing the word "menopause" can get your pulse racing, bring on a hot flush, and make you anxious, angry and tearful all at the same time.

Much like those traumatic childbirth stories, tales of the perils of menopause are often the ones we hear most. For many women, menopause can be a hard slog, while for others, it’s a smooth transition that provides welcome relief.

Dr Janine Bycroft, from healthnavigator.org.nz, answers some common questions about menopause and offers advice to help get you through it.

Will I wake up one day to find my periods have stopped?

Unfortunately, no. During the year or years before your periods stop completely, you'll notice them change – they may get shorter, longer, lighter or heavier. They can become erratic, making it hard to predict when and if you will get one.

You will need to wait a year until after your last period before you are postmenopausal and officially period-free! If you have any vaginal bleeding after menopause, you need to see your doctor.

Will I put on weight?

Not necessarily, but if you enter menopause carrying extra weight, it can be a lot harder to lose than in your younger days. Your risk of osteoporosis and heart disease increases after menopause, so it's important to look after yourself – quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, limit your alcohol intake and eat a nutritious diet (low in saturated fat, sugar and salt, and high in calcium and fibre).

Even if you don't experience symptoms, menopause changes your body and it can be frustrating not feeling like you're in control. You can try some other self-care treatments like meditation, acupuncture and massage.

If you're having a tough time, talk with your GP, who can explain the various treatment options and help you cope.

Will my libido decrease?

If you ask around (which many of us don't!), menopause affects everyone’s sex drive differently.

For some, there is no change at all, while some report feeling a sense of freedom that comes from having no more pregnancy worries. But for others, their sex drive is rudely swapped for the intense enjoyment of a cup of tea and a good book. Physiologically, the decrease in oestrogen that results from menopause can cause libido changes and vaginal dryness.

The latter can be lessened with an oestrogen-based vaginal cream or pessary, but the former can present more of a problem for those who miss sex. Low libido often improves over time. If you’re worried it may affect your mental health or your relationship, it's best to seek help from your GP or a counsellor as there are a number of other conditions to consider and treatments that can help.

What will menopause do to my brain?

Menopause can cause memory loss or "brain fog" and, partnered with sleep problems, you may at times feel as though you’re losing your mind. At the average menopausal age, this is highly unlikely, so don’t panic. Find ways to help you remember things – write lists, use a diary and learn new things to keep your brain active.

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