When you hear the word 'menopause', what pops into your head? Chances are you think about hot flushes, but not much else. In actual fact, menopause has many more symptoms and can potentially hinder a woman's life for 20 years or more.
It's something every woman will go through and it's a condition most females in their 40s and 50s are extremely familiar with. However, do our casual assumptions reduced this difficult, embarrassing and potentially life-wrecking time down to the severity of, say, the common cold? Side-lined into the realm of low-priority conditions, do we need to be taking the menopause more seriously?
Certain symptoms have been well documented, from the disruption to your menstrual cycle to hot flushes, but what else is there? And what are the ramifications of these changes?
The 'poster' symptom of the menopause, three-quarters of menopausal women experience hot flushes. Unlike the warmth most of us experience on a sunny afternoon, hot flushes spread through your whole body and can severely hinder your day. At their worst, women can experience up to 20 in just one day with some sufferers reporting hot flushes well into their old age.
An extremely uncomfortable and disruptive symptom, hot flushes can include sweating, blushing and palpitations. Whilst many learn to deal with this, if you're finding it unbearable, do not fear. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can reduce or even eliminate this frustrating symptom.
Linked to a decrease in oestrogen, a loss of libido can be extremely difficult to deal with, affecting your relationships and state of mind. The strain on those in a relationship can push a couple over the edge, and whether you are single or not, your confidence may suffer, leading to anxiety, depression and stress.
The seriousness of a low libido is often overlooked. It's more than just a 'dry spell' or 'not getting any' – sexual dysfunction can have a significant effect on your wellbeing.
Most of us have experienced something wrong with our nether regions at some point. Whether it's a bout of cystitis, urinary infection or even an STI, when we have an issue with our sexual organ, it is often an overwhelming and awkward situation we want to end as soon as possible. In terms of the menopause, one in three women will suffer from dryness, itching and discomfort. This can lead to pain during sex, and make you reluctant to engage in intimacy with your partner.
You probably thought you left these behind in your teens, but when you hit the menopause, you may become a stroppy so-and-so again. Whilst you may think the odd sulk is no cause for concern, your ever-fluctuating mood can affect your health and damage your social life. A quick temper will lead to more arguments, affecting existing relationships and creating stress for all parties involved. Even more seriously, abrupt changes in mood can trigger depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation (and if you're suffering from night sweats as well, you're hardly getting enough of that in the first place).
Fortunately, there are ways of coping with all this doom and gloom, and treatments available than can reduce or even eliminate many of your symptoms.
Only one in ten women seek medical advice for their menopausal woes. Whilst there are women who are lucky enough to go through this transitional phase without much hassle, it's important to remember treatments are readily available. You don't need to suffer in silence.
For those suffering from multiple symptoms (highly likely!) then opting for Hormone Replacement Therapy can give your body that extra boost of oestrogen to help cope with hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, loss of libido and stress-induced incontinence.
For vaginal dryness, many women use vaginal lubricants and/or creams proven to soothe and reduce discomfort. The options include creams for everyday use and lubricants for use during sex.
Those suffering from mood swings and feelings of depression can opt for antidepressants, only when prescribed by a doctor. Your GP may also refer you for therapies such as counselling. Antidepressants can also be prescribed to treat hot flushes, if your doctor feels this may help.
If you feel you could benefit from any of these treatments, speak to a medical professional, who will be able to advise the best course of action.