Menopause Myths

It’s brilliant that the Menopause has finally been hauled out of the closet and is being talked about, although the peri-menopause is still lurking in the shadows.  The fact these fundamental female issues have been ignored since the dawn of time is scandalous and you can guarantee if they happened to every man on the planet we’d know a shit load more about them than we do.

I read a truly excellent article on Menopause recently and if you’re interested in the subject it’s well worth a look.  The more I learn about this monumental change in women’s lives the more livid I become.  In the article, trainee GP Hannah Short states “The menopause wasn’t in any of my textbooks”.   Say what?!   A biological process which causes problems for over 70% of women often for the rest of their lives doesn’t even rate one sentence in the training of our health care providers?  It’s insanity.

The myths surrounding Menopause are legendary, so I thought I’d highlight a few:

  • It’s a natural process, not a disease, and doesn’t require treatment.
    Pregnancy and childbirth are natural processes, but that doesn’t mean expectant mothers don’t need monitoring, advice, sometimes medical intervention or any kind of health care.  Men’s prostate function declines as they age, and ageing is a natural process, yet they are still placed on prostate drugs when they have to get up 5 times a night to pee.  In other words, all sorts of issues can be put down to ‘natural processes’ but that doesn’t mean we ignore them and offer no help, guidance or treatment.
  • The Menopause lasts approximately 2 years.
    This is a blatant lie.  For a start, most women experience peri-menopause (winding down of hormones) before the actual menopause (periods ending) and the peri-menopause can last anywhere from 2-10 years.  I’m in year 7 and my periods are still regular, if totally haywire.  Virtually nothing is known about peri-menopause as nearly all the limited research has been conducted on menopausal women, not on peri-menopausal women.
  • The Menopause begins in your late forties.
    Having read many menopause forums now, I can categorically state that for many women this is absolutely not true.  It seems to be quite common to experience the first symptoms of peri-menopause in your late thirties, a fact not recognized by most health care professionals.  My periods started to behave differently when I was 44, and my best friend started noticing changes aged 41.  When it comes to actual menopause, see the next point.
  • The average age of Menopause in the UK is 51.
    I appreciate the word ‘average’ is being used, but it kind’ve gives the impression that your periods will end between the ages of 50 and 52 and that isn’t born out by the experience of my female relatives.  My mum was 54 when her periods stopped.  Three of my cousins all had their last period by the age of 49.  My sister-in-law went through menopause at 46, my other sister-in-law was 53 and my next door neighbour was 54.   I’ll shortly be 52 and my periods are showing no signs of ending.  And that’s just a small sample of the differences experienced.
  • The earlier you start your periods the earlier you will reach Menopause.
    Virtually no research has been conducted on this, but from the little information available this appears not to be the case.  I started my periods aged 11 and at the age of 51 am still menstruating.  The three cousins I mentioned above all started their periods in their mid teens yet all reached menopause before the age of 50.   So I can certainly say in our case this is a myth.
  • There is a blood test to tell you if you are in Menopause.
    If you live in the UK and think you might be in peri-menopause there is no test which will confirm this for you.  FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) can be used to check your status but if you’re over the age of 45 and having peri-menopausal symptoms your GP won’t offer it to you as it’s considered unnecessary.  If you are under the age of 45 and showing peri- menopause symptoms you may be offered the test, but unless you are on the brink of actual menopause the results will be about as much use as a chocolate fireguard as your FSH can swing wildly during peri-menopause.  So realistically there is no blood test to indicate you are in peri-menopause and if you’re in actual menopause you don’t need a blood test to tell you your periods have stopped.  It’s a crap situation which desperately needs addressing.
  • There are no treatments for Menopause.
    When you Google peri-menopause and menopause you get all the usual shite about drinking more water, eating better and taking more exercise.  Why is there an assumption that middle-aged women are alcoholic couch potatoes who live on chicken nuggets and curly fries?!  It’s so insulting, as most of us lead incredibly healthy lifestyles and are very careful about diet and exercise as we are putting on weight without trying (a consequence of our declining hormones).  There are hormonal options for treating the symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause (HRT and testosterone replacement) although they are currently crude.  Finding a doctor with any decent knowledge of them, however, is rare.  There are only 2 hormone clinics in the whole of the North of England serving 2.5 million peri-menopausal and menopausal women.  Of course, not all will need treatment but as 70% of women experience problematic symptoms it’s obviously a vastly under-resourced area.  Your GP may prescribe HRT (but not testosterone) and then again they may not – confusing research on the risks of cancer due to HRT has caused reticence.  You absolutely won’t be offered bioidentical hormones on the NHS and realistically are more likely to be offered antidepressants than anything.
  • Symptoms go when you are through the other side of Menopause.
    This is the biggest myth of all.  My Mum asked me the other week if I could get anything at Tesco to help with vaginal dryness and itching.  “Why, are you having problems?” I asked her.  “I’ve been having problems since my periods stopped” came the reply – she’s now 79.  She also still has hot flushes and so too did my 76 year old paternal grandmother, who used to sweat so much every day of her life that it dripped off her chin end.  The information on what happens post-menopause is virtually non-existent and more women than we realize have menopause symptoms until the day they die.

That so little is known about peri-menopause, menopause and post-menopause is shocking but unsurprising.  Issues which solely affect women have historically been ignored and those women experiencing problems have been told it’s their fault for lacking the constitution to cope with this ‘natural’ change.  We are clearly mentally fragile and overly emotional.   Bollocks is what I say to that.  If men went through a fifth of what women deal with the country would come to a grinding halt.

I hope in the current climate of female freedom of expression that health issues which affect women will finally start to be researched.  However, truly effective treatments are decades away.  There are really easy things that could be done now, however, to improve the situation such as regularly checking women’s ferritin levels as many of us are iron deficient during both puberty and peri-menopause.  Even that simple measure doesn’t happen though and women are basically just left to get on with it and to cope the best we can.

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