Technically, menopause means stopping having monthly periods (menstruation). It marks the end of your fertility and is accompanied by significant hormonal changes. Most women begin to experience menopause somewhere between the ages of 38 and 58, with 51 being the average age for Australian women. Remember, menopause is a transition, not a disease.
Different women experience menopause very differently. Although menopause is not an illness, it does have ‘symptoms’. Hot flushes, mood changes, night sweats and fatigue are normal. You may become more prone to accidental urination. Sexual changes also accompany the end of menstruation including vaginal dryness, thinning of the vaginal walls and reduced libido. Some women experience loss of concentration, memory loss, anxiety or fatigue. Your risk of heart disease increases as does your risk of bone loss (osteoporosis) after menopause.
Menopause is usually a gradual process rather than an abrupt change. The first phase is called ‘peri-menopause’: periods become less frequent and other menopausal signs can appear.
If you are uncertain whether changes in your body are caused by the onset of menopause or something else, your doctor can do blood tests that check your hormone levels and can provide a clear answer.
For more general information about menopause (although not specific to women with HIV), check out About Menopause from Women’s Health Queensland. For information about HIV and menopause, see Your Body Blueprint.
Tips for living with menopausal symptoms
- Dress lightly and in layers
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods
- When a hot flush starts to come one, practice slow, deep breathing (about 6 breaths per minute)
- Consider seeing an acupuncturist for treatment
- Use relaxation techniques like yoga, tai chi, or meditation
- Consider soy-based foods
- Perform daily pelvic floor exercises to strengthen the muscles of your vagina and pelvis
- Use water-based lubricants during sexual intercourse
- Talk to other women, particularly positive women, about their experiences and strategies they have found useful
- Always check with your doctor about the safety of any natural products you may want to take to relieve the symptoms of menopause. Some can be harmful.
Menopause: Improving Your Health
- Protect bone health (diet, weight bearing exercise)
- Maintain and improve fitness
- Don’t smoke
- Reduce alcohol consumption (more than a glass a day speeds bone loss)
- Adopt a healthy heart diet
- Supplement calcium
- Practice pelvic floor exercises regularly
- Check herbal/alternative supplements with your doctor for interactions with HIV drugs
- Use lubricants for sex
To learn more about HIV and menopause, check out this great video from Positively UK I’m Taking Care of Me — Menopause. Although filmed in the UK, it provides insight into what a conversation about menopause between an HIV-positive woman and her doctor might look like.