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Managing symptoms of the menopause

About 8 out of 10 (80%) of us will have at least 1 symptom during or after menopause , whether or not we have cancer. These symptoms can be tough to handle and may be especially difficult if you are also coping with a cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment.  

The good news is that support is available and you don’t have to go through this alone. On this page, we talk through some common symptoms of the menopause and how they may affect you, as well as tips and guidance to help manage them. In this section, we also have pages about:

Sometimes talking can help make something more manageable. Whether you need to chat with someone about your experience or want some practical guidance on managing symptoms, remember that we are here for you. 

Get support >

Symptoms of the menopause 

It is important to remember that not everyone will definitely have these symptoms – but if you do have any, they often get better with time. Common symptoms of the menopause include:

Other symptoms of menopause include:

It can sometimes be difficult to know which symptoms are menopausal and which are the physical and psychological effects of cervical cancer, its treatment and recovery. If you are unsure or worried about any symptoms, it is best to check with your doctor. They may offer you blood tests to monitor your hormone levels, which help find out what is causing any symptoms. 

If symptoms are taking a very long time to get better or aren’t getting better at all, asking your menopause clinic or GP for support may help manage them. 

Changes to your period 

A change to your regular periods is usually the first sign of the menopause. They may get lighter or heavier, or you may have them more or less often. Eventually, your period will stop completely.

For some people, periods are consciously or unconsciously linked with feeling like a woman, their ability to have children, or both. If this is how you feel, not having periods can be very difficult to accept. Talking with a loved one, your doctor, or a professional counsellor may help you come to terms with these feelings. You can also talk with us on 0808 802 8000.

Get more information and support about changes to your fertility >

Hot flushes and night sweats

Most people have hot flushes when they go through menopause, although some may have them more often. 

A hot flush is a sudden feeling of heat throughout your body, which may make you sweat, your face go red (flush), or your heart beat faster (palpitations). It happens because of the changes to your hormones during menopause. You may find certain things, like eating spicy food or feeling stressed, trigger hot flushes.

Night sweats are hot flushes during the night. While many people sweat in the night, the type of sweating caused by menopause can be heavy and uncomfortable.

Coping with hot flushes

Some evidence suggests that paced breathing exercises may help with hot flushes: 

  1. Breathe in while slowly counting to 5. 
  2. Release the breath for 5 seconds. 
  3. Repeat for about 15 minutes, if you are able. 

Remember to count slowly and breathe deeply. Once you feel comfortable with the exercise, it may help to practice it every day for 10 to 15 minutes.

It may help to wear layers of light, loose clothes – for example, cotton or silk – to keep cool. You could also use an electric or hand-held fan. If you smoke, you may want to try to stop, as it affects your hormones and means you are more likely to experience hot flushes. It may also help to reduce the amount of tea, coffee and alcohol you drink.

If hot flushes are causing you a lot of discomfort or affecting your day-to-day life, speak with your GP. They may suggest hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which can make hot flushes better. If there is a medical reason not to use HRT, your doctor may suggest a different, non-hormonal medicine. 

Read more about HRT >

Read more about hot flushes on the NHS website >

Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)

Some people find it hard to get a good night’s sleep during menopause. If you find it hard to get to sleep, wake up a lot during the night, or still feel tired after waking up, speak with a pharmacist or your GP. They may be able to prescribe medicine to help you sleep better or suggest some other ways to improve your sleep.

Read more about finding it difficult to sleep on the NHS website >

Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex

Many people experience vaginal dryness at some point in their lives, even if they haven’t been through the menopause. It can be upsetting, uncomfortable and have a big impact on your sex life, but it is usually easy to treat:

  • Vaginal oestrogen. Our sex drive is linked to our hormones, and taking oestrogen gives you back some hormones that decrease during and after menopause. You can get vaginal oestrogen as a cream, tablet or vaginal ring (a type of contraception). It can be used with or without hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help keep vaginal tissue healthy after menopause. Read more about HRT >
  • Vaginal moisturisers and lubricants. These make your vagina less dry to make sex more comfortable. You can ask your GP for recommendations or get them in most pharmacies and drugstores. 

Read more about sex and relationships after cervical cancer treatment >

Low sex drive (libido)

Many people continue active sex lives during and after the menopause. But everyone’s sex drive is different and some people find they have less interest in sex after the menopause. 

Read more about sex and relationships after cervical cancer treatment >

A low sex drive can be frustrating if you have enjoyed an active sex life until now, but there are things that may help. As well as the treatments for vaginal dryness, you may find it useful to speak with an expert:

  • Your GP. If you are worried about your sex drive, speaking with your GP may help. They may be able to give you advice and support, or refer you to a specialist.
  • A sex therapist or counsellor. Sometimes called psychosexual therapists, these experts aim to help you tackle any sex-related problems. Although a low sex drive may be solely due to physical problems, you may find talking through any worries helpful. Your GP may be able to refer you to a sex therapist or counsellor, or you can see one privately for a cost.

Look for a sex therapist or counsellor via The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists >

If you have a partner or are having sex with people outside of a relationship, you may want to talk with them about how you’re feeling. Together, you can figure out what is best for both of you and how you can continue showing each other affection. 

A low sex drive isn’t always because of the menopause, so if you feel this way it is worth thinking of other things that may be causing it. Once you know, you can discuss your ideas with your GP or partner and get the right support.

Read more about low sex drive on the NHS website >

Mood changes

You may feel worried or panicked about your situation. While it is common to feel a little worried for a short time, if it lasts for a long time, speak with your doctor about getting more support.

Read more about anxiety on Mind’s website >

Dealing with big changes, like cervical cancer treatment and the menopause, can make you feel very low. Sometimes you may feel low without a reason. Low moods should get better after a few days or weeks, so if it lasts for a long time, you may be depressed. If you are feeling this way for more than a few weeks, speak with someone you trust – whether that is family, friends, or your doctor – about it. They can support you in getting the help you need.

Read more about depression on Mind’s website >

Everyone reacts to the menopause differently, so you will not necessarily have a low mood or feel more anxious. But if you do have mood changes, it is important to recognise them and get any support you need.

Read more about getting support for your mental health >

Changes to your appearance 

During and after menopause, changing hormones may mean you put on weight. Most people only put on a small amount of weight, but if you are worried about weight gain, speak with your GP or hospital healthcare team. They know your individual situation, so will be able to give you advice about diet and exercise that is right for you. 

Changing hormones can also cause your skin and hair to change – your skin may become more dry or thinner, while your hair may become less thick or shiny. It may help to speak with your healthcare team, GP, and even hairdresser about ways to manage any changes. 

Changes to your appearance may also have a big impact on your mental health, whether it affects how you feel about yourself or how you think others will see you. Try to check in with yourself about any negative thoughts, so you can seek support if you need it. 

Read more about ways to manage your mental health >

Repeated urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Vaginas naturally contain bacteria that helps protect them. Hormone changes during menopause can change this bacteria, which increases the chance of getting repeated urinary tract infections (UTIs). A UTI can be uncomfortable and you could have symptoms, including:

  • needing to wee suddenly or more than usual
  • pain or a burning feeling when you wee
  • smelly or cloudy wee
  • blood in your wee.

UTIs are usually easily treated with antibiotics. If you have a UTI or repeated UTIs after menopause, speak with your doctor who can give you medicine for it. 

Read more about UTIs on the NHS website >

Weak bones (osteoporosis)

Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to weaken, which means they become more fragile and likely to break. It happens naturally as we get older, but can happen faster after menopause. 

If you have premature ovarian insufficiency (POI), you will usually be offered a scan called a DEXA scan. It measures how strong, or dense, your bones are. 

Read more about DEXA scans on the NHS website >

There are things you can do to help prevent osteoporosis, including doing regular exercise, eating healthily, and giving up smoking. 

Read more about osteoporosis on the NHS website >

Increased risk of heart disease

Cholesterol is a fatty substance in your blood. Oestrogen helps control your cholesterol levels, which reduces the risk of a heart attack. After the menopause, your body produces less oestrogen, so your risk of heart disease increases. Remember, this doesn’t mean heart disease will definitely be a problem for you. If you are worried, your healthcare team or GP are the best people to talk to. 

Read more about menopause and heart disease on the British Heart Foundation’s website >

Complementary therapies

If you would like to try any complementary therapies, it is important to talk with your doctor before to make sure they are safe for you. 

Any medical treatment you have in hospital is conventional medicine. This means it has been through trials, has been approved by expert organisations like The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), and evidence shows the benefits outweigh the risks. Complementary therapies are used alongside any conventional medicine. Although there is no scientific evidence that complementary therapies work, many people find they help with symptoms and effects. Some complementary therapies may help with menopausal symptoms.

Find a registered practitioner of complementary therapies at The Complementary Medical Association >

We don’t know how safe or effective herbal supplements with natural oestrogen in them are. If you have a hormonal-related cancer after cervical cancer, evidence says you should not take supplements with natural oestrogen in. 

Black cohosh is a herb grown in North America. If you have hot flushes in early menopause, black cohosh may ease them. It may also help with some other symptoms of the menopause . If you think this would help, speak with your doctor about getting it from a supplier with a good reputation.  

Some physical exercise may also help with symptoms of menopause. Walking and other exercise that put pressure on your bones (weight-bearing exercise) can help protect against weak bones (osteoporosis).

More information and support

Whether you are reading about or experiencing any of these menopausal symptoms, you may feel upset or worried about them. Remember, not everyone will definitely have these symptoms – but if you do have any, there are ways to manage them. 

If you have any concerns or want to talk through how you are feeling, call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000

Check our Helpline opening hours >

Or let our medical panel help you by submitting your question to our Ask the Expert service. 

Use our Ask the Expert service >

Other useful organisations

The Daisy Network
Provides support to women, along with their families and partners, who have been diagnosed with premature ovarian insufficiency.
www.daisynetwork.org

Mind
Provide advice and support for anyone experiencing a mental health problem, including depression or anxiety. Also campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.
www.mind.org.uk

National Osteoporosis Society (NOS)
Provide information and support about osteoporosis, including risk and management.
Free Helpline: 0808 800 0035 
www.nos.org.uk/help-and-support

Women’s Health Concern
The woman’s arm of the British Menopause Society (BMS). Provide information and support about the menopause, including benefits and risks.
www.womens-health-concern.org

Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it. 

References

  • Sussman M. et al, Prevalence of menopausal symptoms among mid-life women: findings from electronic medical records, BMC Women’s Health, 2015.
  • Sood R. et al, Paced breathing compared with usual breathing for hot flashes, Menopause, 2013.
  • Smith R. et al, Does quitting smoking decrease the risk of midlife hot flashes? A longitudinal analysis, Maturitas, 2015.
  • Caretto M. et al, Preventing urinary tract infections after menopause without antibiotics, Maturitas, 2017. 
  • Borrelli F, Alternative and complementary therapies for the menopause, Maturitas, 2018.

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about all the references we used, please contact [email protected]

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Date last updated: 
20 Sep 2019
Date due for review: 
20 Sep 2022