The menopause (the last period) occurs at an average age of 51. This can be a trying time for many women and a variety of treatments are now available to make it easier.
At the menopause, the ovaries stop making the female hormones, oestrogen, and progestogen. This can cause symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats (see below) and lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis (thin bones) and heart disease.
Symptoms of menopause
· hot flushes and night sweats
· depression and irritability
· tiredness, insomnia
· dry vagina, painful intercourse
· palpitations, headaches
· poor memory / concentration
· muscle and joint aches
· a crawling feeling under the skin
· bladder irritation / infections
This is the most effective and most popular treatment for relieving menopausal symptoms. It also reduces the risk of bone fractures and may protect some women from heart disease. These benefits should be weighed against a small increased risk of breast cancer after 5 years of use and thrombosis (blood clots).
Oestrogen can be taken as:
· a daily tablet
· skin patch, applied every 3-7 days
· an implant which is inserted under the skin and lasts up to 12 months
· a gel, rubbed into the skin daily
If you are taking oestrogen you also need progestogen, unless you have previously had a hysterectomy. Progestogen comes in tablets, and in a patch combined with oestrogen.
Vaginal creams or tablets
Oestrogen creams and vaginal tablets can relieve vaginal dryness, painful intercourse and bladder symptoms.
Phyto-estrogens (plant oestrogens)
Oestrogens from certain plant foods, such as soya products and red clover, and phyto-estrogen tablets, appear to help some women, although there is little evidence to support their use. Phyto-estrogens do not reduce the risk of osteoporosis or heart disease.
Other important issues
Try also to exercise regularly and get extra calcium from low-fat dairy foods or tablets. Have mammograms and pap smears every two years.
Updated 25 February 2008
Please note this information was correct at time of printing.
For up to date information, speak to your doctor.