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Going through the change

group of women meeting

We are all aware that the menopause is a natural and inevitable part of a woman’s life, but it’s one that is hardly spoken of.

Here, SIA Trustee, Christa Dyson shares her own personal experience.

When I asked the National Spinal Injuries Centre for support with the menopause, nearly ten years ago, I was quite unprepared for the lack of information given. Nobody knew who was responsible to answer my questions. A nurse, OT or my consultant? Or someone else?

As I entered the menopause, I noticed the following four main symptoms:

  • Night sweats. I felt warmer in bed, which throwing off the duvet for a while soon resolved. For those who have significant night sweats, it’s important to drink an extra glass of water in the morning to replace lost fluid. Once any level of dehydration sets in it can lead to constipation or a urinary tract infection – something that comes with the turf of SCI.
  • Bloating. My tummy felt bloated four or five days prior to my period. Some clothes were more comfortable to wear than others during that time.
  • Bowel movements. My bowel habits changed slightly but if anything this worked to my advantage; if clouds have silver linings this was the only one.
  • Heavy periods. My periods became much heavier and with my limited hand function, became difficult to manage on some days. After nine months, my periods became more erratic and lighter until the last was a mere spotting after a nine-week gap.

Following on from my last point, regardless of whether you have an SCI or not, women need to upscale their sanitary protection. Experiment with different-sized tampons and pads, especially for night use. If you use incontinence pads, speak to a continence nurse. The viscosity of blood and urine is quite different, as are the products designed for each.

Bladder function typically changes during the menopause; frequency and urgency tend to increase. Combined with bladder dysfunction following an SCI, it’s better to discuss how to manage any changes in bladder activity with your spinal consultant or urologist.

Try to maximise your bone density before the menopause sets in, with weight-bearing exercises and the use of a standing frame. Consider requesting a bone density scan and discuss how best to maximise your bone density while options are still available.

Several menopausal symptoms match those associated with Autonomic Dysreflexia; sweating, flushing, headaches to name a few. The best we can do is be aware of this and follow our instincts. Advice has always got to err on the side of caution and consult your doctor if in doubt.

For SCI women approaching and going through the menopause, there needs to be more support as part of our lifelong care. Thankfully, there has been gradual recognition of this. However, more can be done in our SCI Centres. Many women rely on the support of closed-group forums on Facebook, such as SCI Powder Room. Talking to other women who are going through, or who have gone through the menopause, can offer the best advice.

On a final note, most doctors suggest the lubricant KY Jelly for vaginal dryness and ‘matters in the bedroom’. With its myriad of uses in GP surgeries, it’s not the most inspiring product to use when trying to revive lost libido. Durex makes a product called Sensilube specifically for vaginal sensitivity and dryness, and a range of Play Lubes. Perhaps all is not lost after all!

This account first appeared as an article in the April 2019 issue of  FORWARD magazine.  Find out more about FORWARD.

Further support and information

SIA factsheet on Women’s Health 

Women’s Health Concern
This is a charitable organisation and payment arm of the British Menopause Society. Provides an independent service to advise, reassure and educate women of all ages about their gynaecological and sexual health, wellbeing and lifestyle concerns.

Daisy Network
Charity and support group for women suffering from premature menopause (before the age of 40).