Menopause may be the least exclusive club, but we’re making progress

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By Dr Bryony Henderson, Associate Medical Director - Livi UK

Menopause is the least exclusive club but it’s one that’s come a long way in the last few years. People are talking more openly about it than ever before.

At Kry and Livi, we're seeing more people engage with menopause content. Since last year’s World Menopause Day, our female health content hubs have attracted close to 500,000 people, with people engaging with articles such as the ‘7 Signs of Perimenopause’. For me, this is a strong sign that more of us are starting to think about our menopause health journey earlier. And that can only ever be a good thing.

As we mark this year’s World Menopause Day, it’s encouraging to see further signs of progress with the call for peri/menopause to be included in the over 40 health check. I fully agree with what The Menopause All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and Menopause Mandate are calling for. It makes sense.

As a GP, I also want to ensure that we are supporting and equipping all women with the right information instead of relying on self-diagnosis. I was not surprised when I read the Menopause Mandate’s recent survey which reveals that over 60% of women find out about their symptoms of peri/menopause from personal research. Our Miss Diagnosed female health content hubs have provided vital resources and information from our own doctors for many women and their partners navigating this important stage of life.

But clearly there is still a glaring gap in our collective knowledge and understanding of the menopause if women are going it alone. We need to catch up, fast.

I firmly believe that by increasing access to information, we can encourage everyone to better understand their bodies, improve care experiences, health literacy and confidence. In the case of peri/menopause, knowledge is real power - for patients, care providers and the health system. The over 40s female health check in the UK can open the door to information, and with it, earlier diagnosis.

While a small portion of women pass through this time with relative ease, the majority will experience symptoms of some kind. The more we know about our bodies, the more prepared we’ll be to navigate the changes ahead. And with the menopause linked to development of chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, the earlier we can intervene, the better, both for the individual and at a population health level.

To help give us all a step-up on World Menopause Day, I’ve outlined the top three questions that are often discussed on menopause between women and their partners. I hope this will be a starter for ten and encourage more of us to open up and start our own peri/menopause journey and be an active member of the club.

Top 3 questions that women often ask about the menopause

1. When will I go through it?

“It is very tricky to accurately predict the age that women will go through the menopause as it varies greatly from woman to woman. It can be influenced by genetics and your lifestyle but on average, menopause typically occurs in your late 40s to early 50s- but it can happen earlier or later than this. It is important that if you have any concerns at all regarding menopause or any other aspects of your health that you consult a doctor who can give you personalised advice based on your circumstances.”

2. How long will it last?

“Again, it is difficult to say as it will vary from woman to woman. However, if we take menopause itself, this is defined as the point in time when a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months so can largely only be diagnosed retrospectively. The transition phase, known as the perimenopause, however, can vary in duration but this often lasts a few years. During this time, hormone levels tend to fluctuate leading to irregular periods, hot flushes, mood swings and more. Once you have gone through menopause, you are postmenopausal and symptoms will tend to stabilise over time. That being said, some symptoms like vaginal dryness or a change in bone density can persist and may need treatment.”

3. What can I do about it?

“There are lots that you can try from lifestyle based measures to medication. It is important to maintain a balanced diet which is rich in Vitamin D and calcium to protect your bones. Regular exercise can also help with mood swings, weight management and bone health as well as wearing light, breathable clothing. Some women find stress reduction techniques useful, like meditation, deep breathing or yoga. Reducing alcohol and stopping smoking have also been shown to be of benefit. Some women find the symptoms are such that they require medication, such as HRT (hormone replacement therapy). These can help alleviate many symptoms and involve taking either oestrogen alone or a combination of oestrogen and progesterone.

It is essential to have an open and ongoing discussion with your healthcare provider about your menopausal symptoms and the best approach to dealing with them. All of us are different, so what works for one person, may not be the best for another.”

Top 3 questions partners often ask about menopause

1. How can I support my partner?

“As with all stages in life, being there for your partner is very important and I often get asked how to support a partner during this change. It is critical to remember that this is a significant life event and providing emotional support and understanding will help. By listening, offering assistance with everyday tasks and being patient with mood swings, you can help your partner cope with the change occurring.”

2. What can I do to alleviate the symptoms?

“Menopausal symptoms can be challenging and it is only natural that you will want to know how you can help. Offer to research the symptoms and accompany her to healthcare appointments as well as being open to discussing and considering treatment options. You may need to adapt to changes in intimacy or sexual health and being sensitive to this, and keeping channels of communication open, are crucial to navigating this time.”

3. What about sex?

“The menopause not only changes vaginal health but can also cause changes in libido. This time can be navigated by both of you as a partnership with effective communication and understanding. It can help to keep an open dialogue and seek information together so that support can be given to both of you.”

If you are experiencing symptoms of perimenopause or menopause then do reach out to your GP for advice and treatment options. If you would like to learn more about Livi’s female health content, then please visit our women's health hub.