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‘The change’, ‘the climacteric’, ‘the time of life’ – call it what you will, it is an unavoidable fact that all women go through the menopause.

The menopause refers to that time in every woman’s life when her periods stop and her ovaries lose their reproductive function. Usually, this occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, in the UK the average age is 51. In a few exceptional cases women may become menopausal in their 30s, or even younger. This is then known as a premature menopause, or premature ovarian insufficiency.

The menopause is influenced by a change in hormone levels. During a woman’s fertile years, her ability to produce an egg each month is associated with the release of the reproductive hormone oestrogen. As women get older, less oestrogen is produced, causing the body to behave differently. However, the body does not stop producing oestrogen overnight, and the process can even take several years, during which symptoms arise gradually. This gradual change is called the ‘peri-menopause’. At around the age of 50-55 years, the monthly cycle stops completely – so no more ovulations, no more periods and no more pregnancies. This is the menopause.

If you are going through the menopause and would like advice, information or just someone to talk to, you can contact the Staff Helpline at any time to speak to a trained counsellor who will offer a safe and confidential space for you to discuss how the menopause is impacting yourself. Contact the Staff Helpline on: 0800 028 1947

If you are a line manager looking for advice and guidance on how you can support your staff going through the menopause, you can also contact the Staff Helpline for advice. You may also wish to contact your HR team for further guidance and support.  Contact the Staff Helpline on: 0800 028 1947

Symptoms of the menopause

Most women will experience some symptoms around the menopause. The duration and severity of these symptoms varies from woman to woman. About 8 in every 10 women will have additional symptoms for some time before and after their periods stop. These can have a significant impact on daily life for some women.

  • hot flushes – short, sudden feelings of heat, usually in the face, neck and chest, which can make your skin red and sweaty
  • night sweats – hot flushes that occur at night
  • difficulty sleeping – this may make you feel tired and irritable during the day
  • a reduced sex drive (libido)
  • problems with memory and concentration
  • vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort during sex
  • headaches
  • mood changes, such as low mood or anxiety
  • palpitations – heartbeats that suddenly become more noticeable
  • joint stiffness, aches and pains
  • reduced muscle mass
  • recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs), such as cystitis

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What can be done?

Lifestyle factors

A healthy lifestyle can minimize the effects of the menopause, helping to keep the heart and bones strong. Many women feel that this is a good time to review the way they treat their body. Here are some tips to give your body the easiest ride:

  • Chew over your diet - The fall in hormone levels (namely, oestrogen) that accompanies the menopause can increase the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. A healthy diet is essential at this stage: keep it low in saturated fat and salt to reduce blood pressure, and rich in calcium and vitamin D to strengthen bones. Some women take dietary supplements to help get the balance right
  • Keep on your feet - Some women experience increased anxiety during the menopause. Regular exercise helps to convert stress into positive energy, while guarding against heart disease. A regular, varied programme is best: try cycling, swimming, running or aerobics
  • Stop smoking - Smoking has been shown to lead to an earlier menopause and trigger hot flushes. If you smoke you also run a higher risk of developing osteoporosis and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), which is the most common form of death in women
  • Drink within reason - The combination of excessive alcohol and hormonal instability is a risky one! Alcohol increases flushes and is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Try not to drink more than 2 to 3 units of alcohol per day, and keep at least one day a week alcohol-free
  • Make use of health screening services - Studies have shown that a late menopause leads to an increased risk of breast cancer. The NHS offers screening, but you should also keep a check on any changes in your breasts, and seek advice if they occur
  • Alternative therapies - Acupuncture, aromatherapy, herbal treatments, homeopathy, hypnotherapy, yoga and reflexology have all been reported as being helpful in the menopause.

Staff Helpline and Counselling Service

Hormone imbalance during the menopause can sometimes result in added stress and even depression. Psychological symptoms, including depressed mood, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, tiredness and lack of energy have been linked to the menopause. However, large population surveys suggest that most women do not have major mood changes around their menopause. The psychological problems reported during the menopause are more likely to be associated with past problems and with stressful events that occur around this time of a woman’s life such as:

  • Children leaving home or ‘empty nest syndrome’
  • Coming to terms with ageing
  • Parents’ ageing and becoming dependent
  • Death of parents, relatives or friends
  • Loss of a partner through separation, divorce or death
  • Worries over children’s relationships or jobs
  • Lack of supportive social networks
  • Poor health
  • Financial worries

These factors, together with the changes of menopause, can combine to make a women feel stressed and unable to cope.

The Staff Helpline is a means for all staff and their immediate families to access practical help, information, advice and support to address and resolve any problems or issues they may be facing. The service is free, independent, confidential and available 24 hours a day.

If you are going through the menopause or struggling with any of the above factors, you can contact the Staff Helpline at any time to speak to a trained counsellor.  Upon contact to the helpline Health Assured’s counsellors will offer a safe and confidential space for you to offload and discuss how the menopause is impacting yourself. Health Assured’s counsellors will provide immediate support, normalising your experience and exploring the impact of current symptoms. Counsellors on the helpline will also be able to signpost to relevant treatment options within the NHS and explore ways of managing some of your symptoms.

For more information on the Staff Helpline and Counselling Service please read our full guide.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Your GP can offer treatments such as HRT if you have severe menopausal symptoms that interfere with your day-to-day life.

As its name suggests, HRT is simply a way of replacing the hormone oestrogen that is lost during the menopause. HRT aims to relieve those symptoms related to oestrogen deficiency – such as hot flushes, vaginal dryness, and osteoporosis. The benefits of HRT as a remedy for hot flushes, sleep disturbances, vaginal symptoms and some mood disorders have been proved. On the other hand, some women experience unwanted side effects when taking HRT for the first time, such as breast tenderness, leg cramps, nausea, bloating, irritability and depression. Usually these symptoms resolve after a few months, but change in type, dose (Oral: tablet; transdermal: patch or gel) or route of HRT may be required.

When to see a GP

It’s worth talking to a GP if you have menopausal symptoms that are troubling you or if you’re experiencing symptoms of the menopause before 45 years of age.

They can usually confirm whether you’re menopausal based on your symptoms, but a blood test to measure your hormone levels may be carried out if you’re under 45.