What is menopause?
Menopause is a natural process in a woman’s life when her period stops. A woman reaches menopause when she has not had a period for 12 months in a row. This usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55 and the average age is 51 to 52. Some studies suggest that women with HIV may experience menopause earlier, but there is limited data to confirm this.
Menopause occurs because the ovaries have run out of eggs and stop producing two hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. Menopause can also happen when the ovaries are removed during an operation or if they’re damaged by certain medical treatments.
Perimenopause is the time of transition leading up to the final period and can last one or several years. During this time hormones go up and down leading to different symptoms.
Some studies have shown that women living with HIV are more likely to experience more severe menopausal symptoms. However, every woman experiences their menopause differently and symptoms can vary depending on your health, lifestyle, cultural background and family history.
Some symptoms of menopause can be similar to some symptoms of HIV, for example night sweats. Therefore, women with HIV sometimes find it difficult to distinguish between their menopausal and HIV symptoms and worry that their HIV is no longer under control.
The most common symptoms of menopause include hot flushes, night sweats, mood changes, forgetfulness, poor concentration, tiredness, insomnia, headaches, joint pains, sore breasts, dry vagina, reduced sex drive, itchy skin and weight gain.
How to manage menopause
There are different ways to help manage menopause symptoms and to improve your quality of life, such as eating a healthy balanced diet and doing regular exercise.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the most effective treatment to reduce menopausal symptoms. It replaces the hormones that your body has stopped producing. There are many HRTs that can be given to women living with HIV.
It is important that you talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms, treatment options and potential benefits and risks, so that you can make an informed decision.
Sophia Forum in collaboration with Dr Nneka Nwokolo (an expert on HIV and menopause) has developed
‘A Guide to Menopause for Women Living With HIV’