It’s World Menopause Day on the 18th October and I wanted to just say a huge thank you to all the women currently shining a light on the subject of menopause in an open and engaging way. Helping to raise awareness in order to widen the conversation and ultimately promote better health for women experiencing this natural life transition. The day provides a valuable opportunity to discuss the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of menopause and to challenge the stigma and misconceptions surrounding it.
Menopause is defined as the absence of menstruation for 12 months and whilst its a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years, it can vary wildly (and I’ve chosen to use “wildly” rather than “widely because I’ve witnessed some of my friends turning into werewolf’s if they can’t get their fix) from person to person and it’s important to recognise that each woman’s experience of menopause is unique.
Common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, fatigue, and changes in libido. For some, it’s a smooth transition, while others may face more challenging symptoms. Apparently there are over 50 symptoms associated with menopause and up until recently there has been a black hole of knowledge.
Back in the day it was not discussed at all. Women just “managed” their symptoms and carried on. My mother was a prime example of someone who really would have benefitted from being on HRT (hormone replacement therapy). She had a full hysterectomy in her 40’s and was given no hormones to replace her ovaries. She subsequently suffered from osteoporosis, coupled with several back operations that left her supported by 17 2′ titanium screws….it’s no wonder she was in agony for the last few years of her life (although she never complained, but that’s the point, she probably should have jumped up and down – had she been able to that is).
One of the critical objectives of World Menopause Day is to break the silence and stigma surrounding menopause and thanks to a group of vocal women including Davina McCall, Mariella Frostrup and Alice Smellie, more open conversations within families, workplaces, and communities are being encouraged and doctors are becoming more aware of treatments.
I’ve been discussing the pro’s and con’s with my friends for years and it certainly does help to share experiences. Some of us are on HRT, some of us are not. Most of us are amazed by the lovely lubricating effects of oestrogen leaving us “well oiled” as Mariella noted. It certainly seems to be essential for the health of the bladder, vagina and vulva and of course helps with bone density and dryness in general. Some would kill without it or cry all day, others have managed very successfully without it. I was sent to see a urologist a few years ago because I felt as if I had almost constant cystitis, although tests showed I didn’t and the doctor suspected that I had zero oestrogen and was simply dealing with thinning walls that caused irritation. That proved correct after a blood test and so he prescribed me HRT without me really realising that was what I was doing, so I started taking it, having done very little research.
This lead to numerous conversations about the risks. Our generation were put off for a decade because of the breast cancer scare HRT was associated with and so it was interesting when we listened to Mariella and Alice talk at the Hay Festival this year that this was effectively scaremongering and shouldn’t have been allowed to take root. In their book “Cracking The Menopause” they note that 23 in every 1000 women between 50 and 59 will develop breast cancer over 5 years. When you add women taking combined HRT it adds 4 extra cases. Drinking more than 2 units of wine a day leads to 5 extra cases of women in every 1000, but the greatest contributor is obesity – 24 extra women in every 1000, which is 6 times the risk factor. On the other side of the coin, there are 7 less cases if you exercise 2.5 hours per week and of course you have to take into consideration the women who have died from lack of HRT. A 2013 study at Yale University estimated that between 2002 and 2012 nearly 50,000 women may have died prematurely from not taking HRT (it doesn’t make clear whether this is globally…)
So in conclusion, thank you again – many women are in a better place as a result and will hopefully use the day to share experiences and advocate for further change.