The 12 signs you could be in early menopause – and what to do about it, according to Dr Zoe

WHEN a woman will go through the menopause is largely predetermined – before she is even born.

That’s because we are born with all our eggs. When they drop below a certain number, you are deemed to be in menopause. But how can you tell?

The best and first thing to do is speak to your mum. It is the biggest clue you have. If she went through it early, you are more likely to follow suit.

It’s not an exact science but a good indication. The earlier you know, the better prepared you can be.

A good friend of mine, Zoe Hardman, recently shared her experience of facing the menopause at just 37 with Fabulous.

It was only when her older sister discovered that she was menopausal aged just 34, while trying to get pregnant that they spoke to their mum and discovered that she had been through early menopause.

BREAK THE TABOO

After openly talking about it she said she received so many messages from other women in similar situations, women who shared the shame they had felt.

No woman should feel any shame about facing menopause, whatever her age.

It’s so important we all speak about it, to break the taboo and destigmatise something that is completely natural and happens to every woman.

Shame and stigma can be a barrier to women getting the right support and the right treatment.

If you are under the age of 45 and start to notice you are suffering with symptoms you think are linked to menopause, it is really important you speak to your doctor.

Appointments with your GP are a partnership. We might have the knowledge but YOU know how you feel. You know when something is not right.

The important thing is to be straight with us. Don’t just come in, describe your symptoms and leave it hanging. If you think you are suffering menopausal symptoms, tell us.

Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of perimenopause and menopause are very similar to lots of other common conditions that affect women in their late thirties and early forties.

GUT FEELING

Low mood can be mistaken for mental health issues, “brain fog” can be stress and extreme tiredness can be a sign of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Ten to 20 different conditions mimic the symptoms of menopause, so it is no surprise GPs don’t always jump to menopause first.

Statistically, it is much more likely that a young woman will be suffering something else – hence why delays to diagnosis do happen.

That’s why it is important to be direct. If you have a gut feeling, it is usually a good clue for a GP. You have a responsibility to share that with us.

The 12 warning signs of early menopause

Early menopause happens when a woman’s periods stop before the age of 45. It can happen naturally, or as a side effect of some treatments.

For most women, the menopause starts between the ages of 45 and 55.

The main symptom of early menopause is periods becoming infrequent or stopping altogether without any other reason (such as pregnancy).

Some women may also get other typical menopausal symptoms, including:

  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • Changing periods
  • Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Low mood or anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Joint stiffness, aches and pains
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections
  • Reduced muscle mass

The only way to find out if you are in menopause or not is to have a blood test looking for levels of a hormone called FSH. Below a certain point is a likely indication of menopause.

The test is not perfect but it is helpful. If you are younger than 40 and it suggests you are in early menopause, the benefits of HRT hugely outweigh the risks.

In fact, for all women under 50, the benefits of HRT outweigh the negative effects. At this age your body needs oestrogen.

Often, for early menopause, women will be prescribed the combined oral contraceptive Pill as their HRT, which can seem less daunting. It is simply a familiar way of boosting oestrogen.

If you face early menopause, then HRT is vital as part of your treatment. But there are things you can do to ease your symptoms . . . and they all involve living a healthy lifestyle.

Keeping active and eating a healthy diet is key. Just bear in mind if you are suffering hot flushes, perhaps avoid high-intensity workouts.

Every woman is different and it is all about finding what works best for you. The other really important thing to remember is to take care of your mental health.

It is a hugely difficult time for many women and can cause anxiety, “brain fog” and low mood.

Again, HRT treatment will help with this. But so will being open and talking about how you feel with your friends and family.

Sharing how you feel is very powerful and can help others understand just what you are going through.

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