tanith@tanithlee.co.uk
Half of women ashamed to talk to doctors about the menopause

Half of women ashamed to talk to doctors about the menopause

 Many say they feel the menopause is something they just have to ‘put up with’

The Daily Mail
By Ben Spencer
19 May 2016

  • More than two in five women said symptoms were worse than expected
  • Over a third confessed they felt they just had to put up with menopause
  • Doctors warned women are missing out on advice on easing symptoms
  • Others said there is little awareness about treatment and support options

Half of women going through the menopause suffer in silence and avoid talking to a doctor because of the stigma surrounding the change, a report warns.

More than two in five said in a survey that symptoms of the menopause had been worse than they had expected.

Yet half had not consulted a doctor – more than a third of whom said they felt the menopause was something they just had to ‘put up with’.

Doctors last night warned that women are missing out on advice about lifestyle changes that could ease their symptoms. Others said that there is still very little awareness among women of the treatment options and support available because of long-lasting misconceptions.

The menopause usually strikes women in their late 40s or early 50s and is triggered as the body starts producing less of the hormone oestrogen.

The report, to be presented at the British Menopause Society’s annual conference today, reveals that the average woman suffers seven symptoms, including hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia and mood swings.

Around 1.9million women are thought to be going through the menopause at any one time in Britain. Some 80 per cent experience symptoms, which usually last around four years, although for one in ten they can last up to 12 years.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the NHS’s health guidance watchdog, last autumn issued new advice saying far more women should be offered hormone replacement therapy (HRT), despite concerns that it can increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Experts warned that HRT had become a subject that people are afraid of, with some GPs unwilling to discuss it and patients too worried to ask about it. And a survey of 1,200 women aged 45 to 65, commissioned by the British Menopause Society for the report, found that only 3 per cent were aware of the NICE guidelines, despite the huge publicity they received last year.

The poll, carried out by Ipsos MORI, also found that 42 per cent of women had found the symptoms of the menopause worse or much worse than expected.

‘GP DIDN’T HELP – SHE JUST TOLD ME TO GET ON WITH IT’ 

When Tanith Lee was told she had started the menopause early – aged just 38 – it was a huge shock. And the mother-of-two says the attitudes of doctors made matters even worse. She says she was given the life-changing news over her mobile phone while standing on the street. ‘The doctor was a young locum GP and she basically said that I should just go and buy some supplements and get on with my life,’ said Mrs Lee, now aged 44.

Tanith Lee was shocked when she started the menopause at just 38

Still a stigma

‘There is a massive stigma associated with menopause and there is a very negative message out there. Doctors just say, “don’t worry, love, you are just getting to that age”.

‘Women don’t even talk about their symptoms to their friends. The more that can be done to change that, the better.’

Mrs Lee, who lives with her husband and teenage children in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, added: ‘The psychological symptoms I experienced, including anxiety and loss of self-confidence, really took me by surprise.

‘I felt like I had passed my date, that I was “less than” a woman, and just felt really old. No matter what I tried, there was nothing I could do to pick myself back up.’

Mrs Lee, a fitness trainer, was eventually referred to a menopause clinic and began to improve. She now writes a blog called Mrs Menopause to break down the stigmas and said: ‘My take home message is don’t give up, there is hope out there.’

Some 79 per cent said they had suffered hot flushes, 70 per cent night sweats and 22 per cent insomnia. One in five had difficulty with memory or concentration and 18 per cent mentioned joint aches.

Dr Heather Currie, chairman of the British Menopause Society, said: ‘There is a common perception that the menopause is simply a few hot flushes lasting around two years, so the reality can come as quite a shock to many women.

‘Women often feel powerless, because they believe there are limited treatment options and support available, and these fears and misconceptions have persisted from generation to generation.

‘The publication of the NICE guideline represents a much-needed first step towards ensuring excellent standards of care for the treatment of women experiencing the menopause.

‘However, the survey demonstrates there is still extremely low awareness among women of the guideline and misconceptions around the menopause persist.’

Dr David Richmond, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, added: ‘For some women, menopausal symptoms can be extremely debilitating and dramatically impact upon their quality of life.

‘This survey paints a concerning picture, given that many women are suffering from menopausal symptoms in silence – this should never be the case.

Every woman’s menopause experience is different

‘Every woman’s experience of the menopause is different and we encourage women to talk openly to their healthcare professionals, employers, friends and families about the menopause.’

Edward Morris, a gynaecologist at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said that although HRT should be a choice for many women, simple lifestyle changes can make a huge difference.

‘There’s this idea that women cannot do anything about the menopause – that it is coming their way and they should just get on with it,’ he said.

‘But there are lots of small things they can do about it. The main thing that women can do is change their lifestyle. HRT is part of the toolkit, but other things can make a big difference before HRT is even discussed. Exercising, for example, can mean you have fewer symptoms.’

He said that losing weight slashes the risk of hot flushes, which can also be triggered by alcohol.

Simple changes can also improve sleep – including buying a thinner duvet to reduce the severity of night sweats.
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