Advice to other women about the menopause
Women are keen to share their experiences of the menopause with others. They offer the following advice:
1. Don’t expect to have problems
Not all women have problems going through the menopause. According to Dr Sally Hope, most women either have no symptoms at all and feel fine, or have intermittent symptoms which have little or no real impact on their everyday lives (see ‘What is the menopause?’). One woman described herself as ‘one of the very very lucky women who really didn’t notice the menopause at all’. Having expected ‘bad things to happen’, another was pleasantly surprised to find herself having few problems during the menopause. As one woman pointed out, ‘you don’t necessarily all go into a decline and have a lot of problems’.
Geraldine volunteered to take part in research because she hadnt had any great problems
So I was actually, in a way I was dreading the menopause and in another way I was thinking, “Well, get it all over with. Start and get rid of all that.” So I’m quite ambivalent about it. Well, I suppose I can be ambivalent about it because it’s not bothering me at the minute.
And I think part of my reason maybe for volunteering as well was because it is affecting me so little that I think if you want the spectrum I think, maybe I’m completely wrong, you can tell me, but people volunteer for something like this because they’ve had such a bad time. Now, I don’t know, maybe that’s not right but that was part of my thinking, “Well, I’m coming from the side where I haven’t had any great problems.”
2. Talk to people and get support
Some women feel isolated during the menopause. They may feel embarrassed to discuss their symptoms with others. Rather than creating a wall of silence around the menopause and trying to cope on your own, it’s important to talk about it with friends, partners and colleagues, sharing experiences and so gaining support. One woman suggested you need to ‘get the ball rolling and be brave enough to be the first person to speak out’. She was surprised to hear her friends were ‘going through similar things’ (see ‘Support networks’).
Women sometimes found solidarity among their work colleagues once they started to talk about the menopause and realised they were not alone in suffering hot flushes and other symptoms (see ‘Work’). Talking to partners can also help (see ‘Relationships, sex and contraception’). According to one woman, men are more likely to be supportive and more tolerant if women confide in them (see ‘Advice to partners’).
Rhonda advises women to talk to their partner as well as their peers and supervisors at work
And I think when you’re going through it, it’s not the end of the world, no, it’s not always very pleasant and people going through the hot flushes, yes you can flush up, but I think as well let your people let your peers know, or let your supervisors know at work as well, if you’re going through it as well because you may need to take regular breaks, lots of drinking water. You may be in a position where you do have to wear a uniform and this is something that the police are looking at with females at the moment because they have to wear their stab vests, they’ve got their utility belts, which are very uncomfortable and it may be that you need to speak to somebody because in a uniform that can be very uncomfortable and can something be done to help. But I think not to be afraid to go and talk about it, get as much information as you can. Think about your diet when you’re eating, are there trigger points that set that hot flush off. Let your partner know when you’re going through it, don’t be afraid to talk about it. I know some people can get quite a bit moody, there are mood swings to consider.
3. Be informed
Going through the menopause is an individual experience and just knowing about your own body and its changes is part of the process of being informed. Alongside this, talking to people, reading, and researching on the internet can help women better understand the menopause. Widely available information can make it easier for women to better understand the changes that are happening to their bodies and what treatments exist. As one woman said, ‘a little bit of research prepares you better’. Another suggested that women look on the internet for ‘things written by women for women’. She felt that some of the ‘very medical’ information from her doctor did not give her the support she needed (see ‘Sources of information’).
Rose suggests that women start their research before they reach the menopause
I think the message to people is “Do your research, have a look on the internet, find out everything you can and don’t be afraid to experiment and find what suits you.
Don’t do what I did which in retrospect was just walk, I read some women’s magazines, saw what they were recommending, went and bought things without looking into the impact that they might have on my body. If you’re going to take natural supplements read up more if you can and I’m sure now with the internet being so much more widely available, there’s a lot more information out there. If you’re going to take something, read up on the pros and the cons. Understand the implications that it might have for you and the same with HRT, if you’re going to go onto a prescription, find out as much as you can about the implications it will have for you as an individual.
And if you can’t get enough information from your GP go on the internet and try and do some more research yourself because I didn’t and the problem is when you are feeling unwell and you’re having headaches and you’re feeling low you just want to go to somebody that’s going to give you all the answers. So my advice is even before you get to the menopause and you start to feel like that, start doing your research earlier. When you are feeling fit and well and when you’re in the right frame of mind to make some informed decisions. Because by the time you hit the menopause it may be too late. You may already be going through depression and the headaches and the feelings of anger, you may not be in the right state of mind to make those informed decisions. You may like me expect to go to a GP and be given all the answers and be put right. And that’s not necessarily going to happen. So do your research, do it early, before you go through the menopause. Write it all down, keep it somewhere safe so that you’ve got it to go back to at the relevant time.
4. Seek help
Women recognised that they cannot always manage the menopause on their own. Knowing when to seek medical advice and developing a good relationship with health professionals is important during and after the menopause. Women suggested ‘seeking a sympathetic GP’ if you have heavy bleeding or emotional problems; talking to a doctor or nurse ‘even about slight symptoms’; and ‘keeping a really detailed diary’ of your symptoms so that the GP is in a better position to give advice (see ‘Consulting the doctor’).
Katherine advises women going through an early menopause to see a specialist
I would ask, well, I think to get to go and see a proper specialist who specialises in early menopause, not just a GP and not just a gynaecologist, someone who really knows what they’re talking about. And there’s I don’t know where else they are in England, I mean there is the one at the [hospital]. I don’t know what other ones they have and how many there are but I think it’s really important to really get the right advice. And make sure you’re on the right treatment because I think I was on the pill for a long time, which was probably okay for a bit but it certainly wasn’t the last couple of years, it wasn’t doing the right job. And to maybe get the relevant blood tests to make sure that your levels are right for what you’ve got and to go for the odd bone scan just to make sure that your bones are strong.
5. Be assertive
Women stress the importance of being proactive and assertive in managing the menopause. Taking charge of the process by asking questions, persevering until you get helpful answers, and changing doctors if necessary, can give women a sense of control when symptoms threaten their quality of life. One woman urged others to keep going back to their GP if they felt something was wrong ‘even if they fob you off’; another advised women to do their own research and be clear about what they wanted when they went in to see their GP rather than accepting advice without question (see ‘Consulting the doctor’).
Charlotte encourages other women to push for the menopause services they want.
I think that to others I would say “You direct the process you’re in”, “You tell your GP what you want”, “You ask those questions about services of your GP and even if they’re not there so that we do get them through our demand of them”. So it’s good to ask for a woman doctor if you would prefer a woman doctor. Or it’s good to ask for half an hour with the nurse just to talk about it. So, sort of pushing the services forward through our demand I think is important. And get a good gynaecologist that you feel confident in and stay on his or her books through the process. Try and be able to go back to them even if things are going okay, you can still go back.
6. Consider a range of treatment options
Finding the right treatment for menopausal symptoms can be difficult and women may not find ‘a miracle cure’. What works for one woman may not be suitable for another. Women suggested finding out ‘what’s good for you’, whether it be simple changes to lifestyle (see ‘Non-HRT and lifestyle options’), hormone replacement therapy (HRT) (see ‘Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)), herbal remedies or homeopathy (s).
While HRT had transformed some women’s lives, they emphasised the importance of finding out as much as possible about the risks and benefits before making a decision, taking into account family history and ‘the risk of cancer in the family’. Despite widespread use, self medication with herbal remedies can also carry risks and is not recommended by the NHS (see ‘Complementary therapies’).
Lorna advises women to think carefully about the latest research before going on HRT
Now I don’t know who’s going to be listening to this, who will take any notice of this, but I’ve got friends who have been very scared by the stories in the press about HRT and actually suffering pretty horribly. And of course everybody needs to make up their own minds what they want to do and what risks they want to take, but do look carefully at the data. Not just what the press headlines say. Just look carefully at actually what the risks are and the increased risks and remember that as we age, we’re going to be more at risk to these sorts of cancers and conditions anyway. And life is about deciding what sort of risks you want to take but life is for living. Life is all about quality of life. It’s about enjoying life. It’s about living life to the full. I don’t know how long I’m going to live, hopefully I’m going to live a nice long life but I don’t know how long I’m going to live. But it’s about making sure that your quality of life is great.
We’re all in there together. You’re not alone. My advice would be to read up, get your facts known, decide whether you want to go on to HRT or not, quite clearly, quite early on, because if you’re going to go on then you need to be clear and you need to talk to your GP and you need to be clear that’s what you want to do and the only way you can be clear about that is by getting the facts and figures. Go and look up the studies. Make your own mind up. If you’re not going to go on HRT then you need all sorts of strategies to deal with it. So you need to get as much information again as you possibly can and talk to people.
7. Keep healthy
Paying attention to diet, exercise and lifestyle can help women through the menopause. Women suggested keeping ‘as active as possible’; doing some exercise, ‘even if it’s meditation or pilates’, and taking up new activities such as swimming. One woman urged others to think about their diet and what triggers set off hot flushes. Women stressed that eating well and exercising made them feel better, as well as helping to prevent osteoporosis. (see ‘Changes in the body and keeping healthy’.
Susan counsels women to make sure they keep going for screening
Absolutely exercise and walk, talk and listen. So then, go walking, talk to people and listen to people who want to support you. Yeah, and the diet and all the rest. I don’t know. Enjoy because it’s such a painful kind of time in some ways it’s important to enjoy and treat yourself as well. If you want to enjoy food, enjoy food. But, like me I enjoyed it a lot. I ate too much. And if it’s screenings, avail [yourself] of your screenings, your mammographies, your cervical screening, any screening, absolutely attend all your screening sessions because it is a time when other things are going to go to the wall. Go and get cholesterol tested, blood sugar tested all of that sort of thing. Be absolutely vigilant about screening. And just accept each phase of it.
8. Keep the menopause in perspective
As well as keeping healthy, women emphasised the value of maintaining a positive state of mind during the menopause. While acknowledging that the menopause can be a ‘really bad time’ for some women, their message was not to let it take over your life or use it as an excuse to stop you doing what you want to do. One woman stressed the importance of trying to control yourself and ‘not take your symptoms out on other people’. Others suggested ‘focusing on something good that’s happening’, and ‘keeping a sense of humour’. As one woman said, ‘there is a light at the end of the tunnel’.
It’s important to remember that many women find the menopause a positive time in their lives. They see it as a new chapter - an opportunity to develop new interests and get fit and healthy (see ‘Getting older’).
Annes advice is to accept the menopause as a part of life
Well, to make sure you have lots going on in your life so it doesn’t become the central focus of your life. And, to take up challenges really and keep busy.
Well, I think one should always sort of emphasise the positive that it actually I mean I know this is not the case for every person but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to ruin your life or you’re going to have a terrible time. I think if you set out thinking it’s not actually going to have such an impact as people say then that can only be a good thing. I think maybe to look at it positively is very important. And not to think of it as growing old or being less attractive. I know some women think that it changes them. I mean it’s just part of life and you just accept it. Embrace it.
Getting through the menopause is not always easy. By keeping open the channels of communication and sharing information and experiences with other women, partners, colleagues and health professionals, women will feel supported and better informed as they go through it.
Last updated July 2018.