I’d like to talk to you about the menopause – because actually talking about it is the best thing you can do.
As a female GP I saw a lot of women who came to me for help to deal with the symptoms of the menopause. But even as a GP I didn’t really understand the physical and psychological impact of the menopause and how debilitating it was until I experienced it myself.
Women need to talk to their friends and relations about the menopause and how they feel. Just talking about the menopause and hearing other people have been through it too makes you realise you’re not alone.
The worst thing I felt was the loss of confidence – due to a number of different factors. Menopause often occurs around the time your children are growing up and you feel that they don’t need you anymore.
You lose confidence in your appearance – your hair and skin becomes dry and lifeless. You worry that you are no longer sexually attractive.
Anxiety and depression increase.
Your memory isn’t as good as it was and this has a big impact if you’re used to relying on your memory at work. Hot flushes night after night mean you don’t sleep and this also affects your performance at work – or indeed at any task you’re undertaking.
Hot flushes are embarrassing. You go from being perfectly normal to having to open the window, pouring with sweat. Imagine if you were in a meeting or giving a presentation.
Your body starts to let you down. You may have unpredictably heavy periods before they stop. What I didn’t expect was the stiffness in my joints. This has persisted even though I am ‘out the other side’ of the menopause now. My fingers are stiff and it’s difficult unscrewing jars or making the bed and even typing on a keyboard.
Problems and concerns with the menopause are more common than you might think and seeking the right help is important to make you feel better.
There are lot of things you can do yourself – as I have said, seeking support from your peers and changing your lifestyle – but it’s important to go to your GP as well.
Your doctor can discuss your symptoms with you and advise the best way to alleviate them. A GP can carry out blood tests to diagnose the menopause and arrange other tests such as pelvic ultrasounds and bone density scans.
You can also discuss taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy) with your GP – it can help with a lot of the physical symptoms like hot flushes and can improve emotional and mood swings. Some women get on better with HRT than others and it’s not always necessary. I took HRT for about 18 months but found I was fine when I stopped. But other women benefit greatly from taking HRT for a longer period, particularly if they are at risk of osteoporosis.
Your GP can also advise on lifestyle changes you can make around diet and exercise. After the menopause it is harder to control weight so you need to watch what you eat, drink less alcohol and stop smoking – which ages the skin and significantly raises your risk of heart disease after the menopause.
It is important to exercise including gentle weight training as this will help to improve muscle mass and bone strength which is important as we grow older.
We’re all living longer and while the menopause can be a difficult time in our life, with the right support we can all look forward to many more happy and healthy years to come.
Dr Vivienne McVey, Chief Strategy Officer at Virgin Care