We don’t hear an awful lot about menopause.
Mostly, it’s a bit of a joke. The aunty in the corner fanning herself, with sweat dripping down her face, despite the fact it’s the middle of winter. The mum who catches a glimpse of a rogue chin hair in the mirror on her way to work, and desperately tries to pluck it out while muttering to herself, “No one ever warned me about this…” The woman at work who just started yelling because someone offered her a cup of tea and SHE JUST WANTS TO BE LEFT ALONE FOR 30 SECONDS.
But for a number of women – especially those who are in the throws of it – menopause isn’t all that funny.
Dr Brad McKay tells Mamamia, “Perimenopause defines the stage of life occurring around the time of your final period. Some women sail through without any issues, while others suffer intolerable symptoms for decades.”
According to the experts, here are four things that people don’t tell you.
1. You might start getting heart palpitations.
Particularly in the lead up to menopause, known as perimenopause, a great deal of women will feel as though their heart is skipping a beat. According to Dr Nieca Goldberg, “In some women, these palpitations could indicate a heart problem, but in others it’s due to hormonal fluxes.” Goldberg says there’s a simple way to tell the difference. If the heart palpitations are lasting more than a few minutes, make it difficult to breathe or cause you to faint, then it’s important you consult your doctor.
2. The term ‘hot flash’ is completely misleading.
Unfortunately, it’s anything but a ‘flash’. Instead, they can last for hours. Or all night.
LISTEN: Three women talk menopause on the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.
Dr McKay tells Mamamia that approximately 80 per cent of menopausal women will experience hot flashes. As a result, many women will suffer disrupted sleep. Severe night sweats can mean you wake up to damp sheets and saturated pyjamas, which is an incredibly uncomfortable symptom of menopause. Between 38 and 46 per cent of women have trouble sleeping during menopause, which is no doubt one of the many reasons women will also feel highly irritable.
3. We’ve heard your sex drive drops. But there’s more to it.
It’s far more complex than that. Women experience changes in their libido due to fluctuating hormones, with some finding their sex drive actually increases dramatically.
With that said, the majority of women will feel less inclined to have sex, because their testosterone and oestrogen levels have both decreased. Furthermore, a drop in oestrogen causes vaginal dryness, meaning the body finds it difficult to naturally prepare for sex.
“Most women find it uncomfortable to have sex when their vagina feels like sandpaper, and an uncooperative groin, combined with a decreased libido, doesn’t make intercourse fun for either party,” Dr McKay explains.
In some cases, a drop in oestrogen can lead to the thinning of the vaginal wall, which is know as vaginal atrophy. This condition can make sex not just uncomfortable, but painful, given the nerves in the vagina are more exposed.
“Thin vaginal walls and decreased elasticity comes with an array of awful anatomical issues, including vaginal prolapse or a rectocele. This is where the vagina telescopes inside-out and starts to fall out of your vulva,” Dr McKay says.
But do not fear.
The good news is that if you experience vaginal atrophy there are treatment options including hormone replacement therapy or topical creams.
It’s a myth that your “sex life is over” after menopause, Dr McKay says. If there are any outstanding issues, it’s just a matter of seeing your GP.
4. If you're sick of having thick hair, you might have hit the jackpot.
Many women going through menopause notice that their hair thins out.
Dr Utian says this is a result of the body producing extra androgen, which is a predominantly male hormone responsible for reproductive activity.
"When menopause happens and oestrogen levels drop, they may notice some more physical characteristics like thinner hair on the head and hair on the upper lip," Dr Utian says.
On top of thinning hair, some might find their wrinkles become more noticeable.
"Many areas of the body become more dry and less plump," Dr McKay explains, meaning that fine lines appear more prominent.
For women going into menopause, it can feel like they're being thrown into a storm blind. Historically, it's not been a conversation many mothers have had with their daughters, and culturally, we have a habit of silencing the voices of women over 50.
Last week, on the 18th of October, the International Menopause Society launched a new campaign as part of World Menopause Day. The theme was prevention of disease after menopause.
After this life stage, women face an increased risk of developing chronic diseases and some conditions like osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease are highly correlated with the onset of menopause.
As Dr McKay says, "Menopausal symptoms can present in a multitude of unusual ways. It’s important to be aware of them, and if something doesn’t feel right, speak with your doctor."
Perhaps menopause is the gentle tap on the shoulder women need to start taking their bodies, and their health, more seriously.
You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here.
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