Do you know someone in their 40’s who is having huge mood swings, maybe suffering from a lack of libido? Do you want to know why this is happening ? I’ll let MM reader Emily from the Jean Hailes Foundation tell you more
Popular culture and Sex and the City would like us to think our 40’s are really fabulous. Women in their 40s are depicted as glamorous, successful, and sexy, all while managing to juggle a career and a family because – haven’t you heard? – feminism is alive and well and women really can have it all!
Now, let’s snap back to reality for a minute. For most 40-somethings, feeling sexy and glamorous on a daily basis is just not a priority. Described as the ‘sandwich generation’, women in this age group are often torn between caring for children and ageing parents. The 40s are also a time that many women find their career really starts to take off and this comes with added pressure and expectations. It’s hardly surprising that the health nirvana of daily exercise and home-cooked nutritious meals may fall by the wayside.
Women’s health experts are encouraging women to see their 40s as the perfect time to stop putting everyone else first and start taking care of themselves for a change, to start taking care of our health today so that we have a better chance to be healthy tomorrow.
The Health Checks You Need
One way that this can be done is by having a free 45-49 year old health check-up which includes tests for blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. This check-up is available from your GP if you are at increased risk of developing a chronic disease such as heart disease or diabetes. According to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, 89 per cent of women aged 45-55 have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease so if you’re between 45 and 49, chances are you qualify for the free check-up.
What on earth is happening to my hormones?
Aside from general health conditions, women in their 40s commonly face health challenges caused by hormone fluctuations. Yes, it’s not just teenagers who are riding an emotional, hormonal rollercoaster – it’s their mums too!
As women hit their 30s and 40s, their fertility starts to decline. Eventually, their periods start to become irregular and they may even experience some menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes or night sweats. This stage is known as perimenopause and it spans an average of 4-6 years leading up to menopause. The average age for women to reach menopause in Australia is around 50 years but the average range is 45-55.
As women approach menopause, their oestrogen levels fluctuate from one day to the next. This contributes to mood swings, irritability, anxiety, tearfulness, tension and feeling like you’re out of control. Perimenopause shares many of these symptoms with another hormone-related condition – premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The difference is that PMS usually only lasts for one week, once a month but perimenopause can last anywhere from 1 to 10 years. No wonder women in their 40s are feeling overwhelmed – some of them have had PMS for a decade!
Ooops, I seem to have lost my libido
Given everything that’s happening in their lives and their bodies, it’s little wonder that many 40-somethings aren’t in the mood for sex. Loss of libido affects all women at some point in their lives, either in the short-term (e.g. after the birth of a baby, during a stressful time at work, during a rocky relationship) or in the long-term.
For some women, low libido isn’t an issue – as long as they and their partner (if they have one) are satisfied, then that’s fine.
Low libido can have a range of causes including physical, emotional, sexual and psychological reasons. You might be simply too tired, or living what sex therapist Dr Rosie King describes as an ‘anti-sex lifestyle’. “If you are so worn out and exhausted by the end of the day that sex is the last thing on your mind, take a look at your life – try to reduce your load – prioritise, delegate and prune,” she advises. In practical terms, this might mean making a conscious decision to leave the washing up for the morning and get an early night – think of it as adding your partner to you ‘to-do’ list.
Sex is just not the same, or is it?
Of course, there are sometimes physical reasons why women no longer enjoy sex. Pain, discomfort and dryness are usually caused by a drop in oestrogen and this may impact on a women’s libido in her 40s and beyond. Fortunately, there are a whole range of treatments and therapies available to help, from the trusty old KY jelly to prescription creams and medications from your GP. Seek advice from your health professional about the best option for you and don’t just put up with painful or dry sex.
The 40s are a time for you to take stock of your life and make some decisions about how best to look after yourself in the decades to come. “It’s a time to educate yourself about your health and possible risk factors for disease. If you have any concerns don’t hesitate to seek medical advice,” says Dr Rosie King.
Dr Liz Farrell and Dr Rosie King, together with Health Matters presenter Dr John D’Arcy will be presenting a FREE online webcast entitled ‘Making your 40s fabulous’ at 7:30pm AEST on 1 September, 2010. Women can listen to health experts discussing the issues that affect women in their 40s, including hormonal changes, libido, physical changes, sleep, emotional health and the importance of maintaining health for the future. To participate in this webcast, you must register at www.jeanhailes.org.au. For more information, contact the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health tollfree on 1800 151 441.
Written by Emily Reardon on behalf of the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health. This information is not to be taken as personal medical advice and is not intended to substitute for the evaluation of your individual health condition by your personal healthcare provider.
Are you in your 40’s? Have you noticed any changes in your body or your mood? Are you not there yet and a bit frightened of approaching the big 4-0? Or if you have been there and done that – what can you tell us?