Some don't like it hot: how to handle her menopause
From hot flushes to HRT, everything you need to know about the female menopause by Norma Goldman.
Her mood swings are driving you crazy. She's hot one minute and cold the next. She keeps moaning on about 'the change'. Seem familiar? If so, it sounds like your partner is going through the menopause.
The menopause is one of life's natural milestones, so there's no escaping it. And although some women are lucky enough not to notice any symptoms, as many as 80% find that their hormones go haywire around this time — and their relationships can suffer as a result.
The good news is that if you learn more about the menopause, you can give your partner the support she needs.
Menopause — the facts
- The average age of the menopause is 51, but women can experience the changes from their mid-40s until their mid-50s. A 'premature menopause' is one that arrives before the age of 40.
- The word 'menopause' actually means a woman's last menstrual period, but it's more commonly used to describe the changes that usually take place around this time.
- As a woman approaches the menopause, her oestrogen hormone levels fall. This can cause irregular periods and physical and emotional symptoms for a number of years before her periods actually stop.
Menopause - FAQs
Why is she hot all the time?
Don't be surprised if your partner opens all the windows in the house, even when you're feeling cold. Most menopausal women experience hot flushes. In fact, 70% of women suffer from them for one year, 30% for five years and 5 to 10% for 10 to 15 years. When a woman has a hot flush, she may suddenly feel flushed and hot around her face, neck and chest and she may sweat. Her heart may beat faster and she may feel faint or dizzy. Some women find their hot flushes have specific triggers — like hot spicy food or alcohol.
Night sweats are hot flushes that occur at night. They may make your partner (and you) lose a lot of sleep, which can lead to insomnia. This can make you more irritable during the day, putting pressure on your relationship.
Remember that the menopause comes at the stage of life when family changes may also be taking place, eg. being part of the 'sandwich generation' and therefore looking after children, elderly parents and even grandchildren. The extra stress may make her symptoms worse.
What are the other symptoms?
Your partner may also be experiencing mood swings, anxiety, poor concentration, forgetfulness and panic attacks — which can aggravate tense situations further.
Can she still get pregnant?
Your partner can still get pregnant around the time of the menopause. You should continue with contraception for two years after your partner's last period if she's under 50 and for at least one year after her last period if she's over 50.
On the other hand, will she lose interest in sex?
Your partner's low oestrogen levels can cause vaginal dryness, making sex uncomfortable and painful, and lower her libido. Despite myths to the contrary, neither depression nor reduced sexual enjoyment are inevitable at the menopause.
If you're experiencing any relationship or psychosexual difficulties, you may find a couple's counsellor or therapist useful. Relate may be able to help.
I can see the menopause is causing her - and us - problems but she won't talk about it. How do I get her to open up?
Discussing the menopause with your partner may not be easy, but it's an important step to take if you can see that she's having a difficult time.
There are many ways to tackle the subject — and you will know your partner best.
One option is to say that you have noticed how uncomfortable she is and ask if there is anything you can do. Another option is to say that you saw something about the menopause in a newspaper and wonder if she could tell you more about it. With any luck, this will prompt a more open discussion about her experiences, so that you can encourage her to seek help.
What can help ease the symptoms?
Try self-help first. If your partner's symptoms are mild, she may benefit from these simple measures. She could:
- Quit smoking.
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake.
- use cotton sheets as synthetic bedding increases sweating. Blankets are better than duvets.
- Sleep with the bedding loose.
- Take more regular exercise — even brisk walking helps.
- Try vaginal lubricants for vaginal dryness. Ask a pharmacist for advice on the products available.
- Try dietary supplements (such as phytoestrogens - dietary sources of the female hormone oestrogen) and complementary therapies. These may help but some of these aren't suitable for all women such as if, for example, your partner has any medical conditions or if she's taking medication. She should speak to her GP or a pharmacist first.
What about if the symptoms are more severe?
If self-help isn't the answer, professional help might be. There are several options available on prescription, such as HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and alternative drugs. You should discuss these with your partner before she visits her GP, so that she can make an informed choice — or, if she agrees, accompany her to the appointment. Your doctor may refer her to a menopause clinic or gynaecologist with an interest in the menopause.
Norma Goldman is director of The Menopause Exchange.
Page created on May 1st, 2009
Page updated on January 20th, 2010