What’s the average age a woman experiences menopause?
The average age of the menopause is 51 years of age. The common age range is 48-55 years, although many women under 45 years do have an earlier menopause.The definition of being menopausal is when you have not had a period for one year.
Many women deal with uncomfortable symptoms such as hot sweats and vaginal dryness. What’s the best way to treat these symptoms?
Your GP can advise how best to tackle symptoms of your menopause. Like so many conditions linked to various life stages, every woman’s experience of menopause can be different, and treatment will depend on their medical history.
Many women still do not realise that the benefits of HRT usually outweigh the risks for women under the age of 60 years. Taking HRT is the most effective way of managing menopausal symptoms as it is treating the underlying low hormones levels that occur.
Wearing light-weight clothing, sleeping in a cooler room and reducing stress may reduce the number of hot flushes. Some women find that things such as spicy foods, caffeine (in tea, coffee, cola, etc. smoking, and alcohol) may trigger hot flushes, so avoiding these can help.
While menopause is a prime factor, women can suffer vaginal dryness at any age, due to breastfeeding, low libido, oral contraceptives, medicines like antihistamines, irritation from hygiene products or even prolonged use of tampons.
Regelle is a hormone-free vaginal moisturiser that provides quick and long-lasting relief from the symptoms of vaginal dryness and is available over-the-counter from pharmacies.
Are there alternative therapies available if you don’t want to take prescription medications?
Some women cannot take HRT for medical reasons. For these individuals, their doctor may prescribe other medication, such as some types of anti-depressants which can help with hot flushes (even though they may not be depressed!)
There are hundreds of different ‘alternative’ products currently marketed in shops, chemists and over the internet to treat menopause symptoms: I would advise people to tread carefully and speak to a healthcare professional before investing in any of these.
Some women use certain herbs to alleviate their menopausal symptoms, and drinking some types of herbal tea can lead to a better night’s sleep and a feeling of wellbeing.
Although so-called ‘natural’ preparations may help with some symptoms of the menopause, they do not address the low levels of hormones, so cannot improve the strength of bones nor reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease as HRT will.
However, herbal products do not necessarily mean safe products or effective products, and it is wise to speak to your GP and look out for regulatory approval, such as Traditional Herbal Registration (THR).
Certain aromatherapy oils can help some women to relax and improve any symptoms of anxiety or depression. Some oils like lavender can help with poor sleep, and patients often try evening primrose oil to help with breast tenderness.
Side effects like vaginal dryness can be treated with an OTC preparation like Regelle, which is hormone free and provides a moisturising effect for up to 3 days, unlike short acting lubricants.
Should women take hormone replacement therapy?
Taking HRT replaces the oestrogen that your ovaries no longer make after the menopause. Even low levels of HRT can have benefits in your body and improve your symptoms of the menopause.
HRT is the most effective treatment available to relieve symptoms caused by the menopause such as hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings and bladder symptoms.
Women need to be given information about their menopause, ideally by talking to their GP or by reading a reliable website, so they can make an informed decision about taking HRT and hopefully get on with enjoying their lives and put menopausal symptoms behind them!
Are the links between taking HRT and breast cancer accurate? What’s the most up to date information?
Breast cancer is sadly very common. Each woman in the UK or Ireland has about a 1 in 8 risk of developing breast cancer, regardless of whether they take HRT or not.
There are different types of HRT, and each has different risk factors that are assessed according to the patient’s medical history.
If you take only oestrogen (so if you do not have a womb) then you do not have a higher risk of breast cancer on HRT.
If you are taking HRT and are under 51, then you do not have an increased risk of breast cancer, regardless of the type of HRT you are taking. Any risks of HRT are only relevant to women who are over 51 years of age.
Taking combined HRT (i.e. types of HRT containing both oestrogen and a progestogen) may be associated with a very small increased risk of breast cancer. This magnitude of risk is similar to the increased risk of breast cancer if you are overweight or drink two glasses of wine a day.
There is no good evidence which shows that there is an increased risk of death from breast cancer in women who take HRT, and any risk associated with breast cancer is reversed when you stop taking HRT.
If anyone has a strong family history of breast cancer or has had breast cancer in the past, they still might be able to take HRT and should discuss their options with a GP or a menopause expert.
What’s the best thing a woman can do to protect her health up to and during the menopause?
Regular exercise can be very beneficial for your health and also to improve your menopausal symptoms. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is obviously very good for you too. If possible, avoid eating processed foods, consider reducing your alcohol intake, and stop smoking (if relevant).
And stress reduction, often easier said than done, is highly recommended! Try meditation, reading a book, gentle exercise and generally looking after yourself.
Any other tips and advice you’d like to share with us?
My website has lots of information and regular updates on issues surrounding the menopause and its symptoms; https://menopausedoctor.co.uk/
The Regelle website has helpful advice on vaginal dryness, www.regelle.ie which is a common condition, with nearly three out of four women in Ireland, 70.2%, having experienced the painful debilitating effects of vaginal dryness, according to the recent Regelle survey.