Posted by Heather Doggett on 31 August 2018

This is a question that is commonly asked these days in our office and I am fairly certain that it is not all associated with the unusually hot summer we are experiencing. Am I suggesting that we are a menopausal office – well yes, I am and I have to say there is a lot of it about. But despite this, the menopause continues to not be openly discussed. We have so much information around periods and pregnancy and then – well, nothing. It is little wonder that the menopause remains one of the last taboos.

What is the menopause?

Menopause means the last menstrual period. Periods stop because the low levels of oestrogen and progesterone do not stimulate the lining of the womb (endometrium) in the normal cycle. Hormone levels can fluctuate for several years before eventually becoming so low that the endometrium stays thin and does not bleed. The average age of the natural menopause is 51 years but can occur much earlier or later. Menopause occurring before the age of 45 is called early menopause and before the age of 40 is premature menopause.

Perimenopause is the stage from the beginning of menopausal symptoms to the post menopause.

Post menopause is the time following the last period and is usually defined as more than 12 months with no periods in someone with intact ovaries, or immediately following surgery if the ovaries have been removed.

BUT – it is so much more than just that…

While menopause is a natural process, it can last for years and is potentially a hugely disruptive, difficult experience and for all women the menopause is a personal experience, not just a medical condition. However, the diminishing release of oestrogen from the ovary as women advance into their 40s is often the cause of symptoms which can be distressing and may need medical attention.

All the common symptoms of the menopause are associated with a decrease in the body’s production of oestrogen. The list is long – hot flushes are the most common symptom, occurring in three in every four menopausal women. Other common symptoms include night sweats, sleeplessness, forgetfulness, reduced concentration, irritated skin, more frequent urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections, anxiety, low mood and changes in emotional well-being, changes to skin, hair and nails, reduced bone density and strength, vaginal dryness and a reduced interest in sex – a potentially significant stressor for relationships. Symptoms vary hugely in duration, severity and what impact they have between women.

What a difference the right kind of support can make …

  • Educate yourselves about perimenopause and menopause so that you make informed decisions – start reading about the menopause in your early 40’s!
  • Talk openly with friends and acquaintances – discuss how difficult it can be and how you can make it better.
  • Employers play an important role in helping menopausal women at work – some employers have been slow to recognise that women of menopausal age may need specific considerations and many employers do not yet have clear processes to support women coping with menopausal symptoms. The majority of women are unwilling to disclose menopause-related health problems to line managers. As a result, it is very rarely discussed and many managers will not be aware of the issues involved. Many women feel they have to hide their symptoms and will be less likely to ask for the workplace adjustments that may help them. Recognising this, The Faculty of Occupational Medicine has produced guidance on menopause and the workplace for employers, managers and employees.
  • HRT is a hot topic but do your research to find out what the most up-to-date treatments and options are and then discuss them with your GP or request a referral to a menopause clinic.
  • Investigate the benefits of cognitive behaviour therapy as a way of helping manage symptoms
  • Exercise every day for at least 30 minutes
  • Give your diet an overhaul – ensure you eat a healthy diet with lots of food rich in vitamin D and calcium to reduce the risk of osteoporosis along with reducing foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fat. Try to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid too much alcohol (no more than 2-3 units per night) with at least one alcohol-free night, and stop smoking.

I think women are beginning to be more open about the menopause and this in turn will hopefully allow us to see a greater understanding, not just from those close to us but also from within the workplace as we begin to see how much of an impact this change can bring about to women’s health and wellbeing.

For further information:-

Alison Lambert |Occupational Health Advisor