Menopause literally translates as the “end of monthly cycles.” All women have this event in mid-life, typically around the age of 51 years. A natural menopause occurs because when women get older, oestrogen levels decrease which causes our ovaries to stop producing eggs each month. Oestrogen is the female sex hormone which regulates a woman’s periods.

The menopause happens over a few years as the oestrogen declines. During this time a woman can experience many physical and emotional changes. Hot flushes, night sweats, headaches, tiredness, palpitations, being irritable, difficulty sleeping, depresson, anxiety, aches and pains, loss of libido and feelings of not coping as well as before. It doesn’t exactly sound a barrel of laughs does it? There are other long-term physical changes; a decrease in collagen which makes the skin drier and thinner and possibly itchy, a decrease in underarm and pubic hair but possibly more facial hair, the tissues in and around the vagina become thinner and drier and finally bone density decreases putting post menopausal women at greater risk of osteoporosis. You are also at greater risk of heart disease. Not much to look forward to, all in all. Living in a society where youth is lauded and old people are invisible, is it any wonder it is a traumatic event – to have the time when you are officially “old” delineated by all of these physical symptoms.

Whilst the fifty year old woman is coping with these mid-life changes, what is happening to the men? They too of course are suffering, they don’t have the physical symptoms naturally but they suffer nonetheless; they begin to question their purpose and direction in life and then regress to their teenage years in the way they think and act. Computer games, fast motorbikes or sports cars rather than HRT seem to be the answer for men. If they are not allowed to acquire these toys they simply get Grumpy Old Man syndrome, the more obvious symptom of the male menopause.

HRT or Hormone Replacement Therapy is currently the most favoured treatment of symptoms of the menopause. As oestrogen and progesterone levels drop causing the discomforting  physical symptoms mentioned, HRT synthetically replaces these hormones. HRT can be taken by tablet, gel, skin spray or skin patches. It was initially hailed as a marvel for women and certainly alleviated many of the uncomfortable aspects of the menopause, including lessening the risk of osteoporosis and cancer of the colon and rectum. It can however increase the woman’s chances of developing breast cancer. endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer and stroke. Most in the medical profession still advise that if HRT is used on a short-term basis (for no more than five years), the benefits outweigh the risks. There is still some controversy surrounding HRT and many women recoiled fron the fact it was made from the urine of pregnant horses.

Perhaps there are positives to the menopause-not having periods when it’s all over has to be a plus point. It can give us an excuse to bitch about everything. As my youngest child will be about thirteen when I’m going though the dreaded “change,” it was with not a little trepidation that I read The Urban Dictionary’s definition: “A special time in a woman’s life when they can’t have babies any more. They get hormonal, mean, rude, short-tempered and angry. A bad time for teenagers to be living with their moms.”

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