Menopause is something that will affect more than half the population. That’s a fact. Yet despite hitting almost four billion of us – yup, that’s billion – it has been rarely talked about or discussed, leading to a variety of menopause myths to take hold.
Google “menopause” and you’ll find millions of pages, many with misleading or simply incorrect information and opinion dressed up as fact. Perhaps it’s a sign of the unsettled times we’re living in, but my Twitter feed has been inundated with people offering “one-stop solutions” to menopause over the last couple of weeks. I’m still trying to work out how so many different solutions can be “the answer”, but if it troubles me too much, they say I can just pay a wad of cash to find out…
And that’s the problem: while there are so many menopause myths around and not enough solid, factual information, women are being left vulnerable and grasping at any wild claim in the hope it will end their suffering.
So I’ve taken seven of the most common menopause myths found in the Western world and debunked them, to empower others to take control of their health. You can check them out in my video (I’d love it if you could pop over to my YouTube channel and give me a subscribe so you don’t miss out on videos) or read on for all the facts and figures…
Menopause myths 1: Menopause happens when you’re old
Seriously, if I had a pound for every time I’ve heard someone say menopause doesn’t concern them because “they’re not old enough”…
First of all, define “old”. I’m 53 and perimenopausal. Is that old? I certainly don’t feel it. Plus the average age of menopause – the moment when you go a full 12 months without a period – is 51, which is two years younger than me.
My Pausitivity colleague Clare Shepherd went through menopause in her 30s. Like many women, singer Michelle Heaton had a surgical menopause in her mid-30s following a hysterectomy. I’m also following a Twitter account from a girl who was menopausal at 14.
And while the average for menopause itself may be 51, symptoms can start up to ten years before this, the time referred to as perimenopause.
Confused? It’s understandable because menopause doesn’t happen when you’re old. Menopause happens when it happens and we need to be aware of that from the moment we start our periods.
Myth 2: Every woman gets hot flushes
As far as most people are concerned, menopause is hot flushes (or flashes, as they’re called in the US. Having experienced the nuclear explosion in the pit of my stomach, I prefer that. It’s certainly not a soft and gentle flush for me.)
Yes, I got them, too. But they were the last of my symptoms to occur before I realised what going through the menopause could mean.
Most women will get hot flushes – a feeling that ranges from a warmth over the body to full-on nuke attack that leaves you exhausted.
However, not everyone will get them. Scientists think it’s something to do with how our individual bodies react to temperature changes, although they’re not 100% certain. (Hey, it’s women’s health. Get used to that.)
Oh, and it’s almost certainly a myth that some cultures, especially women from a Japanese background, don’t get hot flushes. Researchers have found they tend not to report it so much because it’s not considered the done thing.
Myth 3: HRT is dangerous
And Boom! Here comes the biggie. The one that’s been filling the headlines for at least the last 20 years. Most recently, a report in The Lancet had the tabloid editors rubbing their hands with glee.
Like every medication, there are benefits and risks with hormone replacement therapy. (Have you ever unravelled the sheet that comes with your paracetamol? Read that and you’d never pop a pill again, no matter how bad the hangover.)
Basically, no medicine is 100% safe. In my 20s, there were fears around the contraceptive pill causing blood clots. It can, but the risk is small and most women are prepared to accept them.
As with the pill, the safety, for want of a better word, of HRT depends on so many individual factors, such as weight, symptoms, medical history, that it can never be a simple good or bad.
There is a small risk of developing breast cancer with some forms of HRT. According to the British Menopause Society, one extra woman in every fifty is expected to develop breast cancer if they’re on oestrogen plus daily progesterone for five years.
Have three alcoholic drinks a week and you increase your risk of breast cancer 15%. Being overweight also increases your risk – according to Breast Cancer Now, being obese over the age of 50 causes two or three extra women out of every hundred to develop breast cancer.
I’m in two minds about HRT as I don’t like taking medication long-term if possible, but there are so many pros as well as cons that I’m happy taking it for now. The key, as always, is to empower yourself to make an informed choice.
Myth 4: You’ll never have sex again
No. (Grins.) Next.
Joking! Yeah, menopause has hit my libido. It’s not only the low levels of hormones, but the constant fatigue, lack of confidence and self-esteem, aches and the feeling of life not being worth it at times has quite a part to play. And don’t forget the vaginal dryness which makes it just too sore at times.
Menopause can hit your sex drive, but help is available. Go and see your doctor and ask for testosterone – yes, women have testosterone in their bodies, too. Sadly, not every GP will give you it because they have to do it “off-licence” as it’s not licensed for use for women, despite how much it can help menopausal women. (Don’t get me started.) Nevertheless, anecdotally, I’ve been told by people who’ve worked in Big Pharma that they’re more likely to do this if sex is involved.
But not every woman will experience this (looking at one of my oldest pals!) and many report their sex drive comes back, sometimes in different ways.
And it could even be better than before.
Myth 5: Symptoms are only physical
Oh I wish. While my physical symptoms have been awful – the aches that woke me up at night, the incredible itching like insects were in my skin – the impact it has had on my mental health has been horrendous.
One of my proudest achievements has been getting Mental Health UK to cover menopause on its website because this is such an overlooked part of menopause.
From mood changes to sleep problems to literally wondering about ending it all, menopause can give your mental health a huge whacking.
Sadly, while NICE guidelines recognise this, too many GPs still see mental health as being a separate issue. I’ve had four of the GPs in my clinic try to put me on anti-depressants.
Myth 6: Life as you know it is over
Part of the problem with how we view menopause is the attitude we have towards women growing older in the UK (and the US). Older women are too often seen as having nothing to offer once their “looks” and ability to have children have gone. And that’s given rise to this, one of the beauties of all the menopause myths.
In reality, however, it seems the reverse is true. Research and studies consistently show women saying their life gets better after menopause. Women report feeling less tense, more comfortable in themselves and are generally happier.
I know in myself, I’m much less likely to put up with things I disagree with and I even take the odd selfie now and then because I like how I look. That would have been impossible in my 20s.
And guess what? You can still do everything you did in your youth – meet friends, go shopping, travel, enjoy life, dress up, laugh.
I know. It’s amazing. Who’d have thought it?
Life is different after menopause because you no longer have to worry about having a period when you’re on holiday, or flooding in the middle of a meeting at work. But otherwise, as the song goes, “life’s what you make it…”, menopause or not.
Myth 7: Menopause is a woman’s issue
I was told this once on Twitter by a women’s campaigner I admire a lot. She’s wrong.
Every time I’ve had a menopause moment – a mood swing, tears, hot flush, sleep problems, you name it – it has had some sort of impact on the people around me. Double-checking at work to ease my worries impacts on my colleagues, not wanting to socialise because of depression impacts on my friends, hot flushes have stopped me dead in my tracks, impacting on all those with me, and lets not go into the times I wasn’t allowed near a tea-towel for fear of inflicting pain on someone when a menopausal rage hit #QueenOfTheTowelFlick
Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic workplace. We’re coming out of the kitchen to fill the offices, hospitals, supermarkets, factories. We’re everywhere and our issues are very much society’s issues.
Which is why it’s time to break the menopause myths and get women the help and information they need.
What myths would you like to put right? I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and suggestions in the comments below