What is the menopause?
- The menopause refers to the end of menstruation. This usually
occurs around the age of 47 to 52, although this varies for every
- As menopause approaches, a woman's periods first become sparse,
then the odd period is missed, then they stop
Not every woman has menopausal symptoms, others may experience
some of the following:
- Hot flushes affecting the face and neck
- Night sweats
- Weight gain
Most of the physical effects associated with the menopause are
due to oestrogen deficiency. Pubic hair becomes more sparse, the
labia flatten and the vaginal secretions decrease causing
difficulty and discomfort during sexual intercourse. Changes in the
vagina can also result in bladder infections (cystitis).
Loss of bone bulk and osteoporosis is a natural feature of
ageing, but loss of oestrogen accelerates the process in
The psychological effects of the menopause can also vary. Some
feel they have come to the end of reproductive life, viewing the
menopause as a significant stage in ageing. Others feel freed from
the worry of pregnancy, the troubles of the monthly periods, and
perhaps the continuous use of contraception.
The most common treatment for post-menopausal difficulties is
hormone replacement therapy (HRT), the main aim of which is to
replace the oestrogen now no longer available. As with any
treatment, there seem to be both advantages and disadvantages.
- A reduction in vaginal dryness and irritation
- Osteoporosis may be reduced in the longer term
Disadvantages of using HRT may include:
- Increased risk of developing breast cancer, although this risk
remains quite small
- HRT has also been linked with a small risk of developing blood
clots in the legs and lungs
- Some studies indicate that HRT may increase the risk of heart
disease and stroke
The use of HRT is a complex decision which should only be
undertaken after extended consultation with your doctor. It is not
the only option available and alternatives can be discussed which
are appropriate to personal circumstances.