MEN AND MENOPAUSE
I regularly get asked if I am opening a Menopause Hub for men, the partners of women going through menopause. I joke and say, yes, that’s what the back door is for! But joking aside, I have had men call me at The Menopause Hub looking for information and advice that they can pass onto their partners. Some men have brought their partners to their appointment, and others have even come into see the doctor with their partner. Enlightened men.
But most men have absolutely no clue about menopause. Is that your partner? Do you wish they could walk a day in your shoes (without a fan)? Well now they can educate themselves and become helpful and supportive, rather than be more use than that proverbial chocolate fire guard! Ruth Devlin’s has written a funny guide which might help the lads close to you become more understanding. Ruth’s book is called “Men... Let's Talk Menopause: What's Going on and What You Can Do about It'“ It is a comprehensive guide to the female menopause, written for men, to help them understand this often perplexing topic.
Do you find it increasingly hard to try and convey to your partner how you really feel, without sounding as though you’re going off your rocker? Ever get the feeling your partner really wants to help but just doesn’t know how? Is it driving you both absolutely crazy? If you're a woman, pass this on to men and women alike… and if you’re a man keep reading. And if you’re feeling particularly courageous, perhaps send on to fellow male friends who will find it useful! And feeling braver still…? Buy the book!
So… Men… Let’s Talk Menopause!
Let’s get one thing clear…menopause is all completely normal and you are most definitely not alone. There are plenty of men all over the country, and globally, wondering what on earth is going on, trying to come to terms with this supposed new woman in their lives!
I’ve talked to many men who are desperate to help, are continually confused by the Jekyll and Hyde characters they are now living or working with and wonder when, or indeed if ever, everything will go back to normal. This doesn’t just include wives and partners, it might be your mum, your sister or your work colleague… there’s a lot of women out there… 80% of whom will suffer to some degree from menopausal symptoms. I know…lucky old 20%!
It’s about time it became the norm to talk about this, don’t you think?
Let break the taboo lads! No more sniggers, snorts or eyes to heaven. Educate yourself! Try some understanding.
Brace yourselves… there are over 40 symptoms which women can potentially suffer from… ‘can’ being the operative word here. One of the hardest things to get your head around are the differing experiences women can have, with some women sailing through this time of their lives without even batting an eyelid; pelvic floors and libidos intact (lucky!)
Alternatively, other women can have a very different experience, suffering numerous symptoms that can have a huge impact on their lives and for anyone within the near vicinity… if this is the case deep breath and read on!
Never, and I mean never, say, “Oh it must be your hormones…”, “Oh, it’s definitely that time of the month again…” or “Oh, go and take a chill pill…”.
These comments are like a red rag to a bull.
Do, however become a a patient listener - you have two ears and one mouth, so listening and speaking should be in direct proportion! After all we’ve been patient with your man flu… for years!
Let’s get a few facts straight…
Women have no control as to how the menopause will affect them, believe me, it’s as much of a shock to them as it is to you. All these strange and difficult symptoms are down to primarily oestrogen deficiency - hormone levels are fluctuating all over the place. The symptoms either slowly evolving (sneaky), or wham bam – hitting women who can be thrown in at the deep end and suffer really intense symptoms.
It’s easier to get to grips menopause and to try and understand all those symptoms if they are split into four categories: physical, psychological, sexual and genitourinary (reproductive and urinary to you and me). Our Symptom Checker covers the majority of symptoms.
The most symptomatic phase of the menopause is called the perimenopause – that “glorious” transitional phase from the reproductive phase in a woman’s life to the non-reproductive phase, but still fertile – careful!
Women can only be classed as menopausal/postmenopausal when they have had 12 continuous months of no bleeding, symptoms should be dissipating and life starting to calm down… but paraoxically, some women only start to experience their most debilitation symptoms after their periods stop. Careful though, ‘she’ still could be fertile, so make sure contraception is covered for up to two years if 51 years or under 51 and for one year if over 51years… well, it’s up to you, but if you don’t want to hear the pitter patter of tiny feet…
And now for some answers to questions many men ask…
Q : How long does it last?
A : How long is a piece of string…? The average is between four and ten years but, each woman will experience the menopause in very different ways, with symptoms lasting for different lengths of time and with differing degrees of intensity. Which is why all women should have the luxury of receiving holistic and individualised treatment… I know, realistically that for swathes of women out there this just isn’t going to happen, so the better informed we all are and the more you guys can help the better.
Q : Will she return to normal?
A : Of course she will! Although we can’t guarantee exactly when! As every woman is different, it will take different lengths of time to recover but gradually her body will adjust to the changing levels of hormones, how she helps her body adjust is another matter. The more information taken on board, the more she understands what is happening to her and the more she is empowered to help herself through lifestyle choices, diet and exercise, can help enormously. The sooner any woman does this the better. And her man too! But a healthy lifestyle may not be enough. For some, the symptoms persist and are intense and she may need more medical intervention.
Q : Why, how and when can women develop symptoms?
A : Menopause can either be:
- Spontaneous, so developing naturally
- Surgically induced following, for example, having a hysterectomy (symptoms tend to arrive suddenly and be more intense)
- Following certain treatments like chemotherapy or radiotherapy (iatrogenic)
Q: What are the best ways to help?
Let’s start with the obvious, buckets of TLC and plenty of opportunities for much needed R&R (yes, rest and relaxation!) The less stressed and more relaxed women are, the less intense their symptoms will be. But what else can you do to help?
Get healthier together
Any menopause specialist will first and foremost have a really good look at lifestyle choices, diets and exercise levels… you too could benefit… just saying! As with any health condition the better shape your body is in physically and mentally the better you will cope. Ah, I know you’re thinking to yourself here we go again, someone banging on about lifestyle and exercise but a healthy, well nourished, exercised woman is going to be able to manage her symptoms a lot better than someone who skips meals, is overweight and doesn’t exercise… harsh but true! In fact, being overweight or obese increases your risk of breast cancer and is a greater risk than being on combined HRT.
It’s easier to make healthy choices if you don’t feel like you’re going it alone, so support your partner by making healthy choices where you can. I’m not talking about faddy diets or drastic fasting, instead tweak and nudge diets and exercise in different directions. That means setting realistic targets, eating balanced nutritional meals, and taking plenty of exercise. She will find it helps with many of the symptoms… physical, psychological and genitourinary. And you’ll hopefully earn some brownie points for your good work!
What about alcohol?
Ideally, drinking no alcohol is best, but that’s the ideal! And let’s face it, we don’t live in an ideal world. But it would help to cut down because alcohol exacerbates symptoms, making hot flushes more intense, affects sleep patterns… I could go on… and binge drinking is a definite no no, in fact drinking two or more units of alcohol a day increases your risk of breast cancer more than being on combined HRT.
Q : Is there a blood test which confirms if women are menopausal?
A : There is a blood test called an FSH test (follicle stimulating hormone test) but, this is only useful for anyone who is prematurely menopausal, i.e. under the age of 45 and shouldn’t be done routinely. Everyone’s hormones are fluctuating so much it makes testing FSH levels pretty inaccurate and ends up being a waste of time, and a waste of HSE money and time and gives a false reading for women. Diagnosis should be done from symptoms alone…and please don’t get swept into paying for saliva tests privately, a waste of time too, take her for a weekend away instead!
Q : Is there a magic pill to make everything go back to normal?
There are no magic pills or miracle cures… sorry… but certain medications can help, accompanied with all the lifestyle advice.
Q : When should HRT be considered?
A : When you notice symptoms that start to affect the quality of your partners life and others around you…benefits outweigh the risks…it definitely works…but a prescription is only as good as the prescriber, so see someone who knows what they are talking about. Which is why I set up The Menopause Hub, ireland’s first and only dedicated menopause clinic in Ireland.
If the whole idea of taking hormones or any form of medication for that matter just doesn’t float her boat then there are several alternative remedies out there that can possible, but not definitely help. A word of caution - they too have their side effects and aren’t regulated as stringently as prescribable medicines, so always ask advice from someone who knows what they are talking about.
Q: What about alternative therapies – do they work?
A : Fabulous - take the positive effects of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - learning simple CBT exercises can help not only psychological symptoms but can also help to reduce the intensity and frequency of other symptoms like hot flushes. An excellent book to buy is ‘Managing Hot Flushes and Night Sweats’ by Myra Hunter and Melanie Smith - it’s a very good self help guide to CBT.
Also, acupuncture is proven to help with sleeplessness, energy levels, hot flushes and moods. She will need a course acupuncture, a perfect gift for your loved one!
About Ruth Devlin, the author
After experiencing an array of perimenopausal symptoms herself and realising the lack of consistent information available at the time, Registered Nurse Ruth Devlin decided things had to change. Teaming up with like-minded women from healthcare backgrounds, she co-founded “Let’s Talk Menopause” to raise awareness about the menopause, demystifying it and most importantly, providing easy access to information and support. She is a member of the British Menopause Society and has liaised with menopause specialists to establish what women really want, and need to know about the menopause. It’s no surprise, then, that she has appeared on everything from Radio 4s Woman’s Hour to the BBC Insider’s Guide to the Menopause documentary with Kirsty Wark.
Other websites I would recommend for more detailed information…
Women’s Health Concern: www.womens-health-concern.org - excellent factsheets
Menopause Matters: www.menopausematters.co.uk - covers all aspects of the menopause and runs a very useful magazine which you can subscribe to.
Let’s Talk Menopause: www.letstalkmenopause.co.uk - useful informative blog posts relating to different symptoms
Daisy Network: www.daisynetwork.org.uk - essential website for anyone who is prematurely menopausal.
For any health professional : www.thebms.org.uk – the essential resource, go to publications and scroll down to tools for clinicians, great summarised resources.