12 Menopause Myths Debunked
Menopause is a confusing time for many of us. Our mothers rarely, if ever mentioned it and nobody really even talks about it much, no wonder there are so many myths surrounding it. It reminds me of when I was teenager dancing at the school disco-ceile, where the nuns used to tell us to ‘leave room for the Holy Spirit’ and that we would get pregnant if we sat on a boy’s knee and that we had to put a telephone directory between us for protection. And what’s worse, so little did we know about sex, that we believed it all!
Myth 1 - Menopause only affects women
Technically it does, but whilst menopause as a process certainly affects only women, men are affected by it massively! And this is another reason that we all need to talk about it.
Men are affected as they see their partner/sister/mother suffer the symptoms. These relationships become difficult or different or breakdown. The women around them can no longer function as mothers/carers/partners and some lose their jobs and household finances suffer.
And children and siblings can also be affected. Several women have told me that they feel that they are turning into their menopausal mothers, angry and screaming at their kids for no reason, and that they do not want to be that woman. That is often what encourages them to seek help.
So, almost everyone is affected by menopause at some point in their life.
Myth 2 - Menopause starts at 50 plus
Whilst the average age of menopause in the UK & Ireland is 51, it is just that… an average, meaning there are younger and older women in the mix, too. Also, bear in mind that this figure is the point at which women’s periods stop completely. Peri-menopause (the time leading up to periods stopping for good) can last for 10 years before this.
So women can be peri-menopausal with symptoms throughout their entire 40’s!
Then there are women who go through premature ovarian failure or surgical menopause (removal of ovaries), plunging them into early menopause as young as 20. They then potentially have decades of symptoms.
This means that some women may be seeing their GP for menopause symptoms which are not being recognized because the assumption is that she is too young.
Myth 3 - Hot flushes are the first sign
Hot flushes and night sweats are the most ‘infamous’ of symptoms and are incredibly common but, many women don’t have either. Lucky them!
However, many woman suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, mood changes and depression, which are often probably the earliest symptoms and these often go unrecognised as menopause symptoms.
So if you have never previously suffered from anxiety/low mood and suddenly the world is a dark place, make sure to see your GP and check if its peri-menopause.
Myth 4 - Bio-Identical hormones (BHRT) are not readily available in Ireland
The expensive and private BHRT clinics would love you to believe this but it just isn’t true.
Body identical and bio-identical mean the same thing; hormones made from plants (usually Yam) that mimic your own hormones exactly and they are definitely available on prescription from most pharmacies in Ireland. Ask your GP!
And don’t forget, there are so many ways to take HRT; tablets, patches, gels or a combination of these, so there should hopefully be something for everyone.
Myth 5 - You cannot have HRT while still having periods
Again, I hear patients who are told this by friends and sometimes even their GP. It’s just not true.
For the 10 years leading up to menopause you may still be having periods, either regularly or irregularly and have full on symptoms which can be treated in the same way as if they had stopped completely. If in doubt, check it out.
Myth 6 - You can only use HRT for 5 years
This one I hear almost daily. The NICE guidance says that under the age of 60 the benefits of HRT far outweigh the risks.
After 60 it’s a discussion between you and your GP and an assessment of any risks; there is no time limit, as long as you are under medical supervision.
Myth 7 - Fat people can’t have HRT
Weight, migraine, smoking and diabetes are reasons that women have been given to explain why they are being declined HRT - but these are all false. They do however, determine the type of HRT that is best suited for you and the type that you cannot have.
Myth 8 - Peri menopause means no more babies
Definitely not true! Many a 50+ woman gets surprised by a perimenopause baby. You don’t want that to be you!
Until you have gone without a period for a minimum of a year if over 50, and 2 years under 50, you need contraception. HRT isn’t a contraceptive and women can, and do, get pregnant whilst taking it. Be careful!
So if you are not quite ready for a baby don’t take a chance, it only takes one good egg!
Myth 9 - The symptoms are all physical
Sadly not. There are lots of emotional, psychological and sexual symptoms. Depression/anxiety/panic attacks and mood changes are common, affecting every aspect of life. And the impact of sleeplessness or insomnia causes everything to be magnified and amplified.
The ability to think clearly, find words and concentrate are often lost, being described as brain fog.
Our bones, heart and brain are also left unprotected by oestrogen after menopause.
Myth 10 - Only men need testosterone
Did you know? Loss of libido is common alongside fatigue and loss of your ‘va va room’ or ‘mojo’ and sometimes only testosterone replacement brings it back. Women only have a small amount of testosterone before menopause, but if they lose some of this, its loss can make a major difference.
Unfortunately, in Ireland and the Uk, there are no female testosterone products available on prescription and your doctor will have to prescribe you a tiny dose of male testosterone, which will be prescribed ‘off label’, which means it is not how the male testosterone is intended fo use, as per the label instructions. And many GPs are not comfortable prescribing testosterone for their female patients for that reason. Sad but true!
Myth 11 - Bladder issues are inevitable with ageing
That’s what I thought! I used to get up at night to go to the loo. I used to have leakage when I coughed, sneezed or laughed. It is the loss of oestrogen that causes bladder issues in most cases.
Another problem is cystitis type symptoms, which can make life miserable for some women. They have often had every test and antibiotic a urologist can find and the problem is solved within weeks with a little topical oestrogen cream.
Myth 12 - Your Sex Life ends at menopause
Yes, many women who come to our clinic are upset because they cannot have sex anymore. Whether it is loss of libido or painful sex or both. It doesn’t need to be like that.
You have another 30 years of life ahead of you! Certainly sex can become painful as women can get vaginal atrophy but there are answers and solutions. Combinations of vaginal oestrogen, moisturisers, lubricants and/or HRT can bring back the intimacy.
Key message - don’t suffer in silence. There is no need. Educate yourself and empower yourself about your options for managing your menopause your way.
#NoTaboo #Empathy #Education #Empowerment