Common Menopause Symptoms and how to tackle them

Jane Murphy / 28 September 2016

Don't ignore your menopause symptoms and hope they'll go away - read our beginners' guide to beating those all-too-common menopausal symptoms such as mood swings, hot flushes, breast pain and vaginal dryness.



Mood swings

Why it happens: Depleted oestrogen levels affect production of the 'feelgood hormone' serotonin, leading to ups and downs in your mood. Other menopause symptoms – such as hot flushes and night sweats – can also play their part.

What next? A healthy, balanced diet will ensure you get the nutrients you need to boost your mental wellbeing. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and sugar. 

Complex carbohydrates, found in wholegrains and beans, can help keep blood sugar and energy levels stable, and raise serotonin levels. 

Relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation, may also be of benefit.

10 ways to lift your mood

Breast pain

Why it happens: Painful, tender breasts are associated with hormonal changes – which is why you may have experienced the same problem shortly before your periods, too. These changes can also cause fluctuations in breast size.

What next? Aside from eating well and taking regular exercise, it could well pay to go for a proper bra fitting. Most large department stores and specialist shops offer a free service. More than 70 per cent of women are wearing the wrong bra size – so no wonder so many of us are feeling uncomfortable.

Vaginal dryness

Why it happens: Lack of oestrogen causes the vaginal tissues to become thinner and less elastic. More than half of us experience the problem to some degree immediately after the menopause.

What next? Try using a water-based lubricant that mimics your natural moistness. Look for organic brands, such as Yes, that help maintain a healthy internal pH balance to protect against infection. Certain chemicals and additives found in perfumed bath and shower products can upset this delicate balance, too. So only use warm water and very mild soap to clean the area around your vagina.

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Excess wind

Why it happens: Hormone imbalances can cause lower levels of bile, the fluid that keeps the digestive system lubricated. Dietary changes around this time may also encourage flatulence, although triggers do vary from one individual to the next.

What next? Make sure you chew your food properly before swallowing to aid the digestion process. Avoid artificial sweeteners and fizzy drinks, as well as foods that contain a high amount of unabsorbable carbohydrates: these include beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and onion.

Hot flushes

Why it happens: Hot flushes are the most common menopause symptom, affecting three out of four menopausal women. What's more, women who suffer them frequently do so for an average of seven years. They're caused by hormone changes affecting the body's natural temperature control.

What next? Cut down on caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods. Wear loose clothing. Drink plenty of water. And take regular exercise: menopausal women who embark on a gym-based workout regime can reduce the number and severity of hot flushes by two thirds, says new research from Liverpool John Moores University.

Hot flushes: what really works?

Forgetfulness

Why it happens: Around 60 per cent of women suffer a temporary decline in memory skills during the menopause, according to a study from the University of California. It's thought fluctuating hormone levels are to blame.

What next? Regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet will encourage blood flow to the brain, and so boost your cognitive powers. Get a good night's sleep and you're also less likely to suffer 'brain fog', of course. Above all, do remember these memory problems are only a temporary symptom.

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Thinning hair

Why it happens: Among its many key roles in the body, oestrogen keeps your hair in the growing phase. When oestrogen levels are depleted, your hair won't grow at the same rate. Meanwhile, the increase in male hormones also reduces the diameter and length of hairs, meaning they grow back weaker.

What next? Use a thickening shampoo and conditioner: there are plenty to choose from, including intense treatments that lock in moisture. And consider trying a new hairstyle, such as layers to add texture and volume. Lack of iron may also be to blame: try adding more lean red meat, wholegrains or dark green leafy vegetables to your diet.

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Incontinence

Why it happens: Oestrogen contributes to the health of your urethra and bladder. So less oestrogen means less control when you pee due to weakened pelvic floor muscles.

What next? You can strengthen your pelvic floor with regular exercises, and nobody need even know you're doing them. Sit comfortably and squeeze the muscles – as if trying to stop yourself peeing – 10 to 15 times in a row. Don't hold your breath or tighten your stomach. As you start to improve, try holding the squeeze for a few seconds each time.

One final word: if these self-help tips aren't enough to change things for the better, or your symptoms are already seriously affecting your quality of life, do speak to your GP. There are plenty more treatments and techniques that can make a big difference.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.