Hot flushes and night sweats
Hot flushes and night sweats are the most common symptoms of menopause, with the majority of women experiencing hot flushes at some stage.
For most women no treatment is needed. Dressing in layers and avoiding things that trigger flushes can be helpful. Anything that increases body temperature can trigger a hot flush, such as spicy food and hot weather. Some women find that stress can also trigger their hot flushes.
For women with very bothersome symptoms hormone therapy is extremely effective and safe when used at the right dose in appropriate women. For women who cannot use oestrogen based therapies there are other non-hormonal medications available that help with hot flushes.
Vaginal dryness is another extremely common symptom of menopause. In most women vaginal symptoms respond very well to oestrogen applied to the vagina twice per week (either a cream or a pessary). A very low dose of oestrogen is used with only a tiny amount absorbed into the circulation, meaning that vaginal oestrogen is very safe.
For women with only mild symptoms or women who cannot or prefer not to use oestrogen, simple measures such as using a lubricant can be helpful.
Mental health, emotions and sleep
There are many other symptoms that are more common during menopause such as headaches, joint pains and mood changes.
Women are more prone to depression and anxiety during menopause, especially if they’ve had one of these problems in the past. Women often tell me that they feel more vulnerable to stress - something that would not have bothered them a year ago now seems insurmountable. Sleep disturbance is also very common - such as insomnia or waking up frequently with night sweats.
It’s really important to get on top of sleep and mood symptoms to prevent things spiralling out of control. If hot flushes are also a problem, then treating the hot flushes with oestrogen may improve sleep and mood as well. For some women, psychological therapies are helpful, while women with severe mood symptoms may need other medications such as antidepressants.
When should you see your doctor?
It’s important to see a doctor if your symptoms are having a negative impact on your life – stopping you enjoying activities you usually do, interfering with work or bothering you in some other way.
Menopause is often a good time to address your overall health as well, such as getting your cholesterol checked, making sure your Pap smears are up to date and having that first mammogram (if you’re the right age).
You don’t have to suffer with menopausal symptoms – there are lots of safe and effective treatments available.
What else can help with menopause symptoms?
- Try relaxation and breathing techniques to help with hot flushes and anxiety.
- Eating a nutritious diet and getting regular exercise can help you with fatigue, stress and mood.
- Reduce your alcohol intake – alcohol can make hot flushes worse.
- Keep cool with a facial mist spray, carry a hand fan with you, and dress in layers.
- Discuss with your doctor if hormone replacement therapy (HRT) could be beneficial for you.
- You may choose to see a registered psychologist, dietitian, exercise physiologist, general practitioner, gynaecologist or endocrinologist (hormone specialist), depending on your symptoms.
Get lots of great information about managing menopause from Jean Hailes for Women's Health.
Find a doctor or health professional with experience treating menopause at Australian Menopause Society.