The menopause suddenly got fashionable. Everyone’s talking about it, from Davina McCall to Michelle Obama. But why now?
The basic answer is because this Thing that happens to 50% of the world’s population has been too secret for too long – including from all the girls and women who will also face it in the fullness of time.
As women we’ve traditionally put up and shut up with a lot of gynaecological issues, from endometriosis to polycystic ovary syndrome to birth trauma - like these are things that are shameful, taboo, gross - or worse - all in our heads.
And if you don’t have a womb, you probably know someone who does. And all this therefore affects you, too.
So now we’re talking. We’re being real, and honest, and making sure the next generation don’t face the same challenges as quite such a nasty surprise.
And menopause IS challenging. It can even be nasty.
- Up to 90% of women will get menopausal symptoms (1)
- 25% describe severe symptoms (2)
- 62% of women say menopause symptoms have interfered with their quality of life (3)
- 50% of those with symptoms say they feel depressed, and more than a third suffer from anxiety (4)
- 45% of women say their symptoms have a negative impact on their work
- 10% of women lose their jobs due to menopause symptoms (6)
The menopause impacts every aspect of women’s lives – and it can be debilitating. From insomnia to hot flushes, brain fog to mood swings, symptoms can test relationships, shatter confidence, and force experienced middle-aged women out of workplaces.
The good news is that thanks to celebrity endorsement, there IS more awareness out there, and there is more support available through knowledge, connection, management and treatment.
Equipsme and the menopause
At Equipsme, like most private health insurance providers, we don’t cover private treatment that relates to the menopause, including things like Hormone Replacement Therapy - but we do have services that can help women get a firm diagnosis.
Our 24/7 GP is on hand to talk about symptoms – which is particularly useful if your own Doctor isn’t experienced or isn’t listening. Our nurses on the Health at Hand advice line can help you understand your treatment options, work out how to get the most out of your GP appointments, and trouble shoot HRT issues or queries. And the team on our stress support line are there if things get too much, and if you need to talk before you explode. (Just check what services are included in your Equipsme plan).
The more we talk, the more we know. The more we lean on resources available to us – the better we’ll all be able to navigate our way through.
So here are some very basic questions answered, and some great places to find out more for yourself, or for someone you love.
What is the menopause?
The menopause is when women stop having their periods – usually for a year or more. It’s triggered by a drop in the levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, and it means you can no longer get pregnant naturally.
Typically, women go through the menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. But sometimes women under 40 go through what’s called early menopause.
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause refers to the time before your periods actually stop, where they’ll become more irregular, and menopause symptoms begin.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can be experienced for years, and will be different for different women. They can include:
- Irregular periods, or unusual flow
- Changes in mood, including anxiety and depression
- Brain fog or problems with concentration or memory
- Hot flushes or sweats
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Fluctuations in weight or body shape
- Dry, itchy skin
- Reduced sex drive
- Vaginal dryness and pain during sex
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
What can be done about them?
All the usual things you’re always told to do to be healthy – like stick to a sleep routine, eat well, exercise regularly, reduce stress, stop smoking and talk it out.
It’s also important to make sure you’re getting plenty of calcium as the menopause can increase the risk of osteoporosis and bone loss.
Individual symptoms can then be managed, for instance by taking a cold shower before bed to help with night sweats, starting a vitamin D supplement to help look after your bones, trying a course of cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT to manage bad thoughts - or using lubricants to help with vaginal dryness.
The next step is HRT, or hormone replacement therapy.
What IS HRT?
HRT is medicine that uses oestrogen to replace your body’s own natural levels as they dip. It can come in several forms, including skin patches, gels and implants.
For women who have a womb, part of the treatment will also include the hormone progesterone, which also comes in patches, tablets or as a coil or intrauterine system. Some women, particularly those experiencing loss of libido, will also be offered testosterone.
Your doctor will help you choose the right treatment, explain the side effects, and help manage that treatment as it continues – possibly until you’re out the other side of the menopause. You’ll need regular check-ups to make sure symptoms stay under control, and to check on things like your weight to make sure you’re on the right dosage, and your blood pressure.
Why should workplaces care, and what should they be doing?
Workplaces are becoming increasingly aware of the need to support women going through the menopause. That’s about protecting workers from discrimination - but also about helping companies keep great female talent.
In November 2021, the government published an independent report with ten recommendations aimed at bringing about comprehensive change and support for those experiencing the menopause in key areas of government policy, employer practice, and wider societal and financial change.
As a worker you’ve got the right under the Equality Act to challenge discriminatory treatment by employees, and to ask for reasonable adjustments to your working environment.
Where can I find more information about the menopause?
The Menopause Charity
Menopause in the workplace
British Menopause Society