Why we need to talk menopause!

April 29, 2019
Childhood development, puberty and fertility are frequently discussed areas of women’s lives. But when it comes to the menopause, we tend to gloss over it. We’ll happily yet silently fan ourselves cool in public, rarely declaring that we are in the midst of a hot flash. To make such declarations would doubtless result in stares and stutters from interlocutors. Our work and home lives often offer little comfort, as many misunderstandings around the changes this phase of life brings with it persist, with symptoms even being dismissed as a charade.  

Menopause stats (Source: Stichting Vuurvrouw landelijk platform voor vrouwen in de overgang)  

  • It is estimated that 1.6 women in the Netherlands are currently menopausal.  
  • 80% of these women will experience menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, mood symptoms and sleep problems.  
  • For 85% of women, the menopause lasts between five and ten years. 15% of women will still experience symptoms beyond ten years.  
  • For one in three women, the effects of the menopause interfere with their day-to-day work and life. 

Ignoring symptoms 

Many women are reluctant to admit that they are menopausal. It signifies the end of their fertile phase and the start of a whole host of unpleasant symptoms, including mood changes, reduced sex drive, hot flashes, osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, weight gain and sleep issues. In short, it’s nothing to boast about. But the symptoms will of course not disappear if you simply ignore them.  

Burnout or menopause?  

Indeed, ignoring the symptoms regularly leads to inaccurate diagnoses. “Over half of women of menopausal age who are off work due to burnout have a hormone deficiency” says GP Nora Hendriks, hormone therapy specialist and author of the book ‘The menopause taboo’. During surgery hours, Hendriks is visited by many menopausal women at the end of their tether having stayed home for months. “I administer the appropriate hormone preparations and they are then able to return to work” (Source: https://nieuws.nl/vrouw/20190411/huisarts-nora-hendrik-meer-dan-de-helft-van-de-vrouwen-in-de-menopauze-leeftijd-die-thuiszitten-met-een-burn-out-heeft-een-hormoon-deficientie/)  

Cardiovascular disease or menopause?

The reverse also happens: women will ascribe symptoms to the menopause and therefore see no need to visit the GP. Gynaecologist Ingrid Pinas: “The menopause is a natural process, but the things it does to you can have unnatural consequences that can sometimes be life-threatening.” (Source: https://www.vrouwenindeovergang.nl/interviews/interview-alles-over-de-overgang/). She recommends always going to the GP with any complaints to get blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose in the urine, and liver-, kidney- and thyroid functioning tested, and to check for any serious cardiovascular disease.  

GP approaches to menopausal symptoms will differ somewhat. GP Nora Hendriks for example favours hormone therapy over medication for high blood pressure or antidepressants, which gynaecologist Ingrid Pinas argues can in some instances be helpful.

What can we do ourselves?

1Make sure you get a correct diagnosis. Are your symptoms a result of the menopause or are they symptoms of something else?  

  1. Lifestyle changes with added movement, yoga, dietary adjustments (fewer calories and less starch, sugar and alcohol) and nutritional supplements (magnesium, vitamin D, B12, calcium), giving up smoking, finding more balance in life.  
  2. When doctors’ opinions differ, yours becomes more important. Do your homework on the various options available and make sure that the treatment you get sits well and feels good to you.  
  3. Be open and talk more about your menopause symptoms with your partner, employer or other women experiencing the menopause. How do they manage? Share tips!  

Did you know…?  

From a biology perspective, the menopause is very rare: there are just two other mammal species whose females live on long after their fertile phase is over. These are the small whale, the short-finned pilot and the orca, whose females live up to 70 years longer than the males! Female orcas that are over the menopause enjoy significant status and lead the group with their wisdom and experience. Now there’s an example to follow.