How to tell if you are going through the menopause

Some years ago a wonderfully gregarious patient came to see me at the surgery. 'I think I'm going through the menopause!' She exclaimed. 'I don't want you to do anything about it' she added. 'I just thought I needed to notify someone.'

Menopause is one of those things that is often the brunt of jokes. When it is depicted in the media it's often in a light-hearted or humorous way. But for many women, going through 'the change' is nothing to laugh about and the symptoms can become all-consuming and debilitating. For others, like my lady, the symptoms may well be very manageable but confirmation and reassurance are sought.

So how do you 'diagnose' the menopause?

Medically speaking once 12 months have passed without a period you are classified as having gone through the menopause (or have become 'post-menopausal'). What can be much trickier to work out is if are you in the midst of going though the menopause or what doctors call 'peri-menopausal'.

Since the average age of menopause is 45 to 55 years, if you fall into that age bracket and are experiencing typical symptoms, you may well be going through the change. Here are some of the typical symptoms many women experience. Some may just notice one or two changes, but others can suffer with a whole gamut of symptoms:

  • Change in menstrual cycle - eg reduced frequency of periods, heavier periods or a more erratic cycle
  • Hot flushes, sweats
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Mood symptoms - eg fatigue, low mood
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Reduced desire or libido.

For most women no specialist tests or investigations are needed to confirm the menopause. A typical change in your cycle, coupled with common menopausal symptoms would be sufficient to make the diagnosis.

Some types of contraception stop a woman's periods, so noticing a change in cycle is not possible. For ladies who have had a hysterectomy the same issue arises. In these situations blood tests can be useful in deciding if you are menopausal or not. Your GP will be able to advise you which tests may be helpful.

For further information about the menopause take a look at this in-depth article from Patient.

Dr Jessica Garner is a GP and health blogger. Visit her blog here.