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Menopause – the taboo topic


Every woman who reaches a ‘certain age’ will go through the menopause, some will sail through with no symptoms celebrating no more inconvenient, sometimes painful periods, others will have a whole plethora of unsavoury symptoms thrown at them. 

The menopause, or ‘change’, usually happens to women around the age of 51, although it can come much earlier. Women often follow in their mother’s footsteps regarding their menopause age, but certainly not when it comes to symptoms – these are all very individual.

When the taboo is broken and common menopausal conditions are whispered about on forums with women comparing notes, the list is usually the same; hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, anxiety and in some cases, depression.  Woven in with these symptoms are sleep problems caused by the above.

However, there are a whole collection of less-documented symptoms affecting many women; from full-on physical panic attacks to feeling, (and looking), as though you’re pregnant.  Women have also reported facial acne, dry skin and scalp, hair loss, vaginal dryness, as well as severe gastric issues, often escabated by the phantom pregnancy-style bloating.

No wonder that many women entering the menopause lose the confidence they have carefully built up during their lives.  Looking bloated with acne and fatigue is enough to get you crawling back under the duvet, not furthering your career or facing family commitments.

Dr Louise Newson is a GP and Menopause Expert, recently appearing on ITV’s Tonight programme about the menopause.  “People know about the major common symptoms attributed to the menopause – hot flushes and night sweats in particular.  But women often don’t realise that physiological symptoms they may have are also related to the menopause, as oestrogen receptor levels fall in the brain, and in extreme cases resulting in people unable to leave their homes as anxiety or threat of a panic attack is too much to bear.”

There are ways women can help navigate through this transitional time in their life; Dr Newson recommends a healthy diet and exercise, as well as reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, and smoking can help reduce hot flushes.  While HRT is also an effective option, it’s not for everyone due to medical reasons or people simply not wanting to go down that route. Herbal remedies and acupuncture can also help some women.

A lesser known fact is that women can still get pregnant during the menopause even a year or two after periods have stopped. It should also be pointed out that HRT is not a contraceptive, and women have got pregnant while taking it.

The menopause can have a profound effect on relationships and working life.  Waking up with sheets drenched in sweat leads to sleep disruption to both women and their partners and vaginal dryness and mood swings can also put pressure even on the strongest relationships.

Workforces can do their bit by turning heating down at work where a employee regularly suffers from embarrassing hot flushes and cut a bit of slack if that employee has to come into work later after a sleepless night.

New guidelines on menopause and the workplace have just been drawn in November 2016 up by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians (FOM):

Let’s lift the taboo and give the menopause the exposure it so desperately needs.

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