The Seven Dwarfs of Menopause

Suzanne Sommers renamed the seven dwarfs as Itchy, Bitchy, Sweaty, Bloaty, Sleepy , Forgetful and Psycho in her book on the menopause. Despite this cartoon appearing on the walls of many offices belonging to women of ‘a certain age’, is it REALLY true that women turn into such unattractive little creatures just because their periods have stopped?

The menopause generally happens between the ages of 45 and 55. This means that most women still have a good 30 years left after the menopause. This is as long as the period we were able to have children.

The menopause comes about when the ovaries stop producing the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. This happens quite quickly and that is one of the reasons why some women can suffer some unpleasant symptoms around this time. The body’s tissues have to adapt to not receiving oestrogen and this can take a few weeks for some women to much longer for others. But as amusing as Suzanne Sommers’ cartoon is, not ALL of those attributes can be blamed on the menopause! Let’s take them in turn:

Itchy. Women can find that their skin becomes itchier and drier, particularly on the vulva, after the menopause. The vaginal and vulval tissues become thinner and more fragile without oestrogen and this can make them become irritated or more prone to infections and skin conditions.

Bitchy.  Dropping levels of oestrogen can have an effect on the level of endorphins (or feel good chemicals) in your brain. Many women will feel snappy or irritable with those around them during the menopause. Lack of sleep, depression and adapting to changes in your life (such as your children leaving home or retirement) can be the cause of this just as much as the menopause though.

Sweaty. Most of us have heard of, or experienced, hot flushes. That overwhelming tidalwave of heat, flushing and sweating that comes out of the blue. This is because of changes in the part of the brain that regulates temperature.  The good news is that they do eventually settle although this does vary between women.

Bloaty. Hormone changes can cause some women to retain water or produce more gas than before the menopause. Becoming less active can also make bloating worse. Women often blame the menopause for weight gain at this time of their life but most cases of weight gain around your 40s and 50s are actually due to decreasing activity levels and changes in diet. The good news is that these can be influenced, whereas the onset of the menopause can’t.

Sleepy. Many women report that they struggle to get to sleep during or after the menopause.  Hot flushes are often the cause of this. Insomnia or lack of sleep may mean that you feel tired and sleepy throughout the day.

Forgetful. Although lots of women report that they started to become forgetful after their periods stopped, there isn’t actually any evidence to link memory problems with the menopause. However, there is a link between getting older and not being able to remember things as well. If you are preoccupied with lots of other symptoms then this will also make you more likely to become forgetful.

Psycho. The familiar stereo-type is of the knife wielding menopausal woman.  Contrary to popular opinion, women do not turn into axe wielding maniacs once they stop needing to buy Tampax, and there is much than can be done to help cope with the irritability and mood swings that some women experience.

Our article on the effects of the menopause on your pelvic floor gives you lots of advice and tips on how to minimise the impact it will have on your pelvic health. Most of the symptoms of the menopause can be treated and there is no need for your life to become less fulfilling or enjoyable just because you no longer have periods. The menopause may signal the end of your ovaries’ active life but your life most certainly doesn’t end there…

By Alison Bourne MA (Cantab) BSc MCSP ACPWH

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