There’s no doubt that menopause can be tough, but support is out there. We asked Dr Naomi Potter, menopause specialist and co-author of the book Menopausing, for her expertise on navigating your body and mind through this transformative time.
What exactly is menopause?
“The menopause is when your ovaries essentially stop working – officially, that’s 12 months after your last period. Perimenopause is the time before that, where you have more turbulent hormonal activity. Perimenopause can last for months, years, or sometimes even a decade.”
What signs should I look out for?
“It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly which symptoms are down to perimenopause – this is because they can change all the time, and because you’ve got oestrogen receptors throughout your entire body. The symptoms that everybody associates with the perimenopause and menopause are hot flushes, night sweats and periods changing and stopping, but there are so many more.
You can have symptoms from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, from hair loss and eye dryness to palpitations and muscle pain – and that’s what makes it so difficult to diagnose. It really can affect any organ at any time.”
Other common effects include:
• Mood swings, anxiety and low self-esteem
• Brain fog
• Difficulty sleeping
• Headaches or migraines
• Skin changes
• Reduced sex drive or discomfort during sex
How can I tell if it’s menopause or stress?
“There’s often a lot going on when you’re perimenopausal. You may have children, older parents to look after, or a demanding career. It can be hard to work out what’s hormonal and what’s life.
If you feel like you’re not coping with everyday challenges like you once did, that’s a hint it could be perimenopause.” Your GP should be your first port of call.
What lifestyle changes can I make?
“Lifestyle is really important. There are a number of adjustments you can make…
• Cutting down on caffeine is a big one: it’s a really powerful stimulant and probably the most anxiety-inducing.
• Exercise is phenomenal!
• A balanced diet that’s rich in unrefined foods and low in sugar.
• Smoking: it’s terrible. You have to stop.”
What are the biggest menopause myths?
"There are a lot of common misconceptions about the menopause and the perimenopause. "I'm too young" is probably the biggest one - we frequently see women younger than 40 experiencing perimenopause symptoms.
Probably the biggest concern among my patients is, "Am I ever going to feel like 'me' again?"
The answer is, invariably, yes – you are. Have faith that things will get better. Ultimately, it’s about what’s right for you.”