Why are most life matters never discussed or brushed under the carpet? Why does there seem to be so little information, so little support, guidance, or even forthright discussion about it. It only stands we’re going to feel isolated, confused, and troubled when in the throes of a situation we don’t understand. Periods and menopause are just the start of the taboo subjects that women face. Yet, almost every women experiences it. It shouldn’t be taboo, it should be talked about, we should be educated, guided, supported.
In our autumn edition we had the pleasure of speaking to Jo Weatherall, who, like millions of women, found the menopause to be a really trying time. Despite feeling like her body could tackle anything, based on the years of care she put into it, her identity, her life really, changed overnight because of the menopause. To make matters worse, when Jo tried to open up to a friend about her experiences, she felt shut down and closed off, only exacerbating the isolation she felt- it turned out that her friend too was experiencing the menopause but didn’t feel capable of speaking up about it. There is so much shame around it.
Living with teenagers and experiencing this phase of her life whilst they were struggling with their hormones and bodily changes was eye-opening. Jo took back the self-care approach and the tools and techniques she’d learned over the years to navigate this new phase in life. Now, Jo helps and coaches women going through the menopause, sharing the tools and techniques that helped her to regain control of her life and symptoms. Importantly, she provides that essential support network so others know they really aren’t alone.
But the lack of discussion isn’t only making us feel isolated. It’s causing embarrassment around symptoms and our willingness to even be open to our doctors.
Women are too embarrassed to speak up
We also spoke with Dr Alexandra Oliver, Medical Director at Bupa Health Clinics about the latest research into the menopause. What was surprising is that 1 in 10 women actually had “no idea” they were even going through the menopause and nearly half (45%) say they had never seen their GP to discuss symptoms. A third of women are also just too embarrassed to talk about their symptoms.
What is the menopause?
The menopause is a natural part of life for women. It happens when the balance of your body’s sex hormones changes, meaning that your periods end and you’re no longer able to become pregnant.
Signs and symptoms of menopause
More than three-quarters of women experience some symptoms of menopause. The main symptom of the menopause is your periods becoming infrequent or stopping altogether. However, there are many, different symptoms of the menopause and these may include hot flushes, night sweats, and aching muscles.
It’s very common for people going through the menopause to find that it does affect their mental health, too. This can lead to low self-confidence, low self-esteem, panic attacks and anxiety.
It’s important to remember that there is support available from your GP. Certain symptoms may be less openly talked about than others – for example problems with vaginal dryness and painful sex. It’s important to remember that your doctor is here to help, is used to dealing with these issues and there are treatments available to ease these symptoms.
Symptoms are different for every woman. You may find they don’t really affect you at all; but on the other hand, they might have a significant impact on your day-to-day life. You might have symptoms for years before your final period and for several years afterwards, or you may only get them for a few months.
What is early menopause?
In the UK, the average age for the menopause to start is usually between the ages of 45 and 55, with 51 being the average age for a woman to have her last period. If you go through the menopause before you’re 45, it’s said to be early menopause. Before the age of 40, it’s classed as premature menopause.
You may be more likely to have an early or premature menopause because of your family history (if a close relative had a very early menopause, you may have one too), a genetic disorder, or an autoimmune condition.
Going through early or premature menopause can be a challenging and stressful time, with many not knowing what is happening to their bodies and being unsure of where to turn for support. So it’s important to get the help you need.
Your doctor should be able to diagnose menopause based on your symptoms (both physical and mental). Occasionally you may have a blood test to check your hormone levels too.
Keep a note of your symptoms
Not only is it useful to keep track of your symptoms for when you speak to your doctor, but it can also help when you begin any treatments, to see if they’re working for you. The menopause can affect you differently during the day and at night, so keep a note of when these symptoms occur.
Seek medical support
If you are worried that you’re going through menopause, there are lots of ways to manage symptoms, including treatment and leading a healthy lifestyle. Your GP is available to support you, too. There is also specialist menopause support available. Remember – doctors are there to help and no problem is too ‘embarrassing’.
Find out about treatment options
There’s lots of treatments available to ease your menopause symptoms, including Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and non-hormonal medicines. Vaginal lubricants and moisturisers, and oestrogen creams can help with vaginal dryness.
Ask your GP or a menopause specialist about the different treatment options available.
Be open with your loved ones
The menopause can affect your mental and physical health, so it’s important to lean on your friends and family for support. Speaking to them about how you’re feeling can help to ease any worries you have.
Look after yourself
Keeping yourself healthy – both physically and mentally – can ease your symptoms. Limit your alcohol consumption, quit smoking, and follow a healthy, balanced diet. Whilst you may not feel like it, exercising regularly can also help. Where possible, find time to relax and take time out for yourself, too.