If you’re in midlife – or approaching it – you’re likely to have thought about the menopause and may even have some questions about what to expect. While the conversation is undoubtedly opening up about the subject (a lot more so than in previous years anyway), many taboos and misconceptions still surround it. Whether you’re in your late thirties and are curious or in your forties and have just started noticing some changes, understanding menopause and how to look after your health will help you make this stage of your life as positive as possible.

So, to get started, here are five things that I believe everyone should know about menopause.

Menopause may happen sooner than you think

Five per cent of women will have a naturally early menopause, that is, their periods will stop completely when they are under the age of 45. And one in 100 women have it before the age of 40. Other possible reasons for early menopause might be surgery to remove the ovaries or chemotherapy. And smokers reach menopause just over two years earlier than those who don’t.

Even if you don’t have early menopause, symptoms can start earlier than you might have thought too, as they begin in perimenopause, the four to 10 years leading up to the menopause. If your menopause is at the average age, 51, your symptoms could start aged 41.

Menopause symptoms don’t end at hot flushes and night sweats                                                                                                      

There are actually at least 34 symptoms of menopause, and every woman will have a unique experience. We’ve all heard of hot flushes and night sweats, but many women are blissfully unaware of the many other symptoms and how early they can strike. ⁠⁠

And, often, women put any changes down to other reasons such as stress.

I see so many women in their mid-40s with symptoms ranging from anxiety, brain fog and loss of libido to fatigue and joint pain, and menopause hasn’t even crossed their mind. You might think of the main menopause symptom as being hot flushes, but often, the very first symptoms of perimenopause are feeling tired, loss of libido and/or joint pains.

If you’re in your mid-40s and you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, the chances are that you are perimenopausal. ⁠⁠You’re not ‘losing your mind’, your hormones are changing, and a visit to your doctor can help you understand the best way to take back control and feel more like yourself once again.⁠⁠ The more we all know what we’re dealing with, the quicker we can take action.

Technically, the menopause lasts for one single day

I think that the word ‘menopause’ is actually rather misleading and even a little misunderstood.⁠

While we often talk about being menopausal, and ‘going through menopause’ there are actually many different stages that make up the process, a series of gradual changes that usually start at around the age of 45, as your body adjusts to your fluctuating hormones.⁠ Menopause is a stage in every woman’s life that happens when you stop menstruating and you’re officially in menopause when you’ve not had a period for twelve consecutive months.⁠

The time leading up to the end of your periods is known as perimenopause.⁠ You still have periods, but they may be changing in frequency or nature, and you may start to experience menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, loss of libido, low moods, anxiety, irritability or brain fog.⁠ This happens because your body is preparing for menopause, your hormones are shifting, and changes are beginning to happen.⁠

You’re in perimenopause right up until you’ve not had a period for twelve consecutive months, and then, just like that, you know you have achieved menopause.⁠ Menopause is just one day in time, and after that day you’re post-menopausal.

The earlier you tackle lifestyle factors such as diet, drinking, smoking and exercise, the better prepared you’ll be

In midlife, women tend to start to put on weight, often around the middle, related to the decline of oestrogen. Or there could be an issue with thyroid function, which also affects metabolism. You can help manage these changes by eating a nutritious, balanced diet, reducing your alcohol consumption, stopping smoking and exercising regularly. Even walking for just thirty minutes a day can be very beneficial.

Diet is a crucial component of a healthy menopause. For some women, managing their diet allows them to have a more effortless menopause experience without hormonal intervention. Focus on phytoestrogens like soy, oats, barley, lentils and yams, which can boost a woman’s natural oestrogen levels enough to reduce symptoms such as hot flushes. Cholesterol and fats like oily fish, avocadoes and eggs are beneficial for producing testosterone and making new cell membranes.

We should be more aware of breast cancer

When women reach the menopause, their risk of developing breast cancer rises significantly. In fact, 8 out of 10 breast cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50.

It’s helpful to be aware of the other breast cancer risk factors so you can aim to reduce them. So, my final advice is probably one of the most important – stop smoking now and keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. Weight is also significant as breast cancer is linked to being overweight or obese. Inactivity is a risk factor, too; aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. Anything that you can do to improve and maintain your health during this time will go a long way.

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