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Fifty Shades of Menopause; Surviving the Change

23 April 2015

Angelina Jolie's recent procedure to have her ovaries removed has got us all talking about menopause but it's important to know the facts.

The average age of menopause is 51 but a small minority, one per cent, of women will go through menopause before the age of 40. “Surgical menopause” occurs if both the ovaries are removed as in Angelina Jolie’s case. Approximately 70% of all women will suffer from symptoms and these can occur before menopause shows up on blood tests. Symptoms usually improve over two to five years.


Some women experience mild symptoms and their lives are not generally affected by the onset of menopause. For other women symptoms can range from troublesome to extreme and life disrupting.

The signs to be aware of:

• Erratic periods

• Hot flushes and sweats

• Sleep disruption

• Changes in mood

• Joint aches

• Skin, body shape, hair and nail changes

• Vaginal symptom

• Loss of sex drive

• Fatigue

Diagnosis and Treatment

A GP will diagnose menopause based on symptoms. Blood tests confirming menopause can be helpful, however a normal blood test does not exclude menopause. If you are suffering from any of the suggestive symptoms you should contact your GP who can then refer you to a specialist if necessary.

As the treatment plan is different for every woman based on her symptoms, it is important to seek specialist advice early and not let things spiral out of control.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it menopause? Menopause is often assumed based on symptoms. However, it is important to make sure there are no other medical causes for symptoms like thyroid problems or anaemia.

What can I do about hot flushes? These can be treated with hormone and non-hormone based treatments. Lifestyle measures such as regular exercise, reducing alcohol intake, avoiding processed food, managing stress and keeping weight under control can also help flushes.

Is Hormone Therapy (HRT) safe? For some women hormone treatments will restore well-being effectively and safely. For some, it is not suitable, not tolerated or simply poses too much risk. A risk assessment by a menopause specialist enables shared decision making, helping women to make informed decisions about the treatment approaches they can safely use for menopause.

Are there natural treatments I can use instead of hormone therapy? Optimising well-being, reducing stress, improving physical fitness, healthy nutrition and sleep routine, can all help to balance menopausal symptoms. Natural plant derived “phytoestrogens” (red clover) can sometimes ease symptoms and avoid the need for stronger hormone therapy.

What about my sex life? Stress reduction and a healthy lifestyle can help libido. During and after menopause loss of estrogen and testosterone production from the ovaries have an impact on sexual enjoyment. Vaginal lubricants and vaginal estrogen treatments can help dryness and discomfort. HRT and sometimes testosterone treatment, guided by an expert, can help restore a healthy sex drive.

Dr Annice Mukherjee is a leading hormone specialist and works at The Wilmslow Hospital, 52 Alderley Road. For more information or to book a consultation with Dr Mukherjee please call 01625 545 036.

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