VIP / Lifestyle

Everything you wanted to know about the menopause

Including symptoms, HRT and misconceptions...

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Comic legend Joan Rivers got it bang on. “A study says owning a dog makes you ten years younger”, she once said. “My first thought was to rescue two, but I don’t want to go through the menopause again.”

No one wants to go through the menopause, full stop. Even if it means reeling the years in. The symptoms are, of course, the problem. However, it doesn’t help that the absence of menopause in popular culture keeps it still a taboo – why though? Why are we not talking about the menopause? There is literally no legitimate reason. “Peri-menopause and menopause should be treated as the rites of passage that they are. If not celebrated, then at least accepted and acknowledged and honored”, says actress Gillian Anderson. And she’s right. With over 3.5 billion women, making up almost half the world’s population who will inevitably experience the menopause, it is sad to think, many will not understand the change or fully anticipate what to expect until it happens.

With this in mind and with World Menopause Day (it was on October 18) still fresh in our minds, VIP decided, with the help of Mylan, a global healthcare company and an expert in the field of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), to conduct a survey with our readers. And the response was massive. You answered in your droves. What emerged front and present from these stats, which, you or readers provided us with, is that women want an open discourse, they want to be educated, they want to know more.

So here it is: If you’re a 40+ female, the perimenopause is quite possibly happening to you right now. According to the World Health Organisation, there’ll be 1.1 billion women aged 50 or over by 2025, all of whom will have already experienced the perimenopause (23% of ladies who answered our survey are peri-menopausal).

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But what exactly is the menopause and what happens to the body to enlist such a vast range of mostly horrible symptoms? Dr Deirdre Lundy, an expert in the field of female health broke it down for us.

“The menopause is actually kind of complicated but basically what it is women are living much much longer than their fertility. As a result of this women are having to deal with having no sex hormone for almost half of their normal life,” she told us. Bit sad really when put like that.

The average age women finish making eggs is usually 52 or 53. But some of the symptoms go on forever Dr Lundy explains. “Symptoms that have got to do with low levels of oestrogen, like, vaginal atrophy, having to pee too often, having incontinence, those things never get better, they get worse every year you live,” she says.

“I looked at your survey and the commonest symptom that people identified as ‘Oh that’s the menopause’ was flushes and generally there is a huge variation, I mean gosh I know people that never had a flush, but the women who get them, tend to get them for about ten or more years, although it’s not uncommon for obese women, women who smoke, women with a strong family history of heart disease will actually go on to have their flushes deep into their sixties. So we used to say, ‘Just grin and bear it, it will all be over by 55’ but that’s not true anymore.” (88% of ladies answering the survey confirmed hot flushes top of thier list with trouble sleep and mood swings following closely behind).

Not much good news there either, we know. But according to Dr Lundy HRT really helps. If your symptoms are generally as a result of hormone depletion and hormone secretion and you supplement those hormones and you keep them at a steady predictable adequate level – HRT will literally cure you, she says. “You won’t know yourself. I’m on the list of experts for the British Menopausal Society, who every single female doctor expert has been on HRT, and some of them for 20 years.”

HRT has, of course, got a bad rap in recent years with its link with breast cancer and this was also a concern for 57% of ladies in our survey. However, Lundy is clear to point out that it was factually inaccurate of the media to say the risk of breast cancer significantly increases if you use HRT. “The National Institute Of Care And Health Excellence (NICE) have come out with a definitive statement saying HRT hormones do not cause breast cancer, but if you’re going to get a breast cancer, that has hormone receptors on it, it’ll grow faster if you’re using hormones. So yeah it is significant, just as significant as drinking a glass of wine or being overweight. You could do so much for women in Ireland by just highlighting these facts,” she told us. So there you are – job, sort of, done. We hope this information helped. And thanks to all our ladies for taking part.

Further your research at hse.ie and womens-health-concern.org

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VIP asked Owen McKeon, Country Manager Mylan Ireland, a global healthcare company and an expert in the field of HRT, to disseminate the results, here’s what he said…

“It’s encouraging to see that over half of the women asked would or do turn to a healthcare professional for information on the menopause. However, there are still a large number of women who do not seek professional advice and who should be encouraged and feel able to do so.”

“The internet, social media and family and friends still play an important role in sharing experiences and advice, but a healthcare professional is the person who can help women understand more about the menopause, its symptoms and effects, as well as the options available to them to manage what they are experiencing.

Nevertheless, there are clearly still the same persistent misconceptions coming through from this survey, for example, the use of hormone replacement therapy, and its link to breast cancer. This fear continues to persist and to be openly discussed by many, despite more recent expert analysis and research that contests these links. Our health system and medical professionals are in a position to empower women in making their healthcare decisions, by disseminating the latest information available and providing access to these options.”

“The menopause can be a sensitive subject for many women – each woman has their own experience, menopause is not a one-size fits all process. Until recently in Ireland discussions around women’s health, and reproductive and sexual health in particular, remained something of a taboo subject. This is thankfully changing but in terms of menopause and as the survey shows, women still need more open and informed conversations about it. This has to include patients and their medical practitioners and women with their family and friends also. It’s a cliché but knowledge is power and the more information women have about menopause the greater confidence they will have in making treatment decisions as they approach menopause.”

Check out the survey results below:

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