The M Word review: Dr Philippa Kaye’s unmissable guide to get you through the menopause

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It takes a lot to make me leave Thomas Cromwell behind*, but getting the chance to review The M Word: Everything You Need to Know About the Menopause by Dr Philippa Kaye made me do it.

Dr Kaye is a working GP with an interest in women’s, children’s and sexual health who I’ve followed on Twitter for a long time. You may have seen her a bit more on your TV over the last few days – she’s been on the likes of This Morning and Sky news discussing coronavirus.

What’s that got to do with menopause? I hear you shout. Well… nothing. But it shows how good she is at taking the medical jargon out of subjects and explaining them in a way we can all understand.

That’s what she does in The M Word, without patronising or dumbing down or underplaying what menopause can mean. The result is an incredibly easy-to-read guide that you can dip in and out of to get the information you need.

What’s in The M Word?

Topics include:

  • physical symptoms
  • psychological symptoms
  • sex, libido and contraception
  • HRT and other treatments (prescribable and herbal)
  • lifestyle changes
  • periods (yes, they can still be around)
  • health after the menopause
  • menopause in the workplace

With her interest in sexual health, it’s no surprise sex and relationships gets a good mention – two chapters’ worth, which includes a comprehensive guide to contraception.

There’s also info on safe sex, which is good to see: so many guides presume menopausal women are in nice 2.4-children relationships. I know several friends who have ended relationships with menopause and started new ones and while HIV hit in our teenage years, so we saw all the iceberg announcements, it’s not something we tend to think of for older people. I had a thought-provoking coffee chat with one of them discussing when/if you should ask about HIV testing with a new partner.

A wee rant…

It was also interesting to read about testosterone. My GP told me testosterone for a woman was a “leftfield” idea by specialists, which infuriated me – I’d been recommended it or extreme fatigue by none other than Mr Haitham Hamoda, now chairman of the British Menopause Society, so hardly a leftfield man – but also left me feeling a little foolish. I know there are some things the NHS doesn’t give because the efficacy doesn’t merit the cost or the health risk is too strong, so I presumed testosterone was one of them. Silly me asking for something that is whoo-whoo

Except after reading The M Word, I’m now even more angry. It turns out that testosterone used to be prescribed on the NHS, but was withdrawn for cost reasons. So when a GP tells you that it’s a leftfield idea, hit them with the facts. It mightn’t get you anywhere, but I bet you feel better…

(Together with the HRT shortages, which I have no doubt is due to cost reasons, as you can see here, that got me on a real rant. I know. You’re shocked. Me ranting… Amazing… I know, but why is women’s health – especially our sexual health – still so easily dismissed? Men get a pill to help them have sex and we have to fight to get something to stop us feeling exhausted.

A friend who worked in the medical world told me to tell the GP I needed testosterone because of a low libido: “It’s amazing how quickly they’ll prescribe it when sex is involved,” she said. Now that’s worthy of a rant, right?)

Menopause without the preaching

The M Word is also mercifully free of judgement. HRT is discussed along with complementary therapy and I’m delighted Dr Kaye takes the same view as me: if it works for you and it’s safe, go for it – but make sure you tell your GP.

The one thing that really gets me about menopause advice is it can be another way for women to beat up other women: take HRT and you’ll get cancer or stroke or clots; don’t take HRT and you’ll get osteoporosis or cardio problems or dementia; putting chemicals into your body is bad; herbal remedies are just sugar and water for gullible people etc etc.

Women don’t want scaring into a treatment and we don’t want to be shamed for our choices. We want to know the facts so we can make an informed decision and then be supported in this. Healthcare shouldn’t be Mean Girls and “on Wednesdays, we wear pink.” We need to move the focus onto what is right for you.

Self-help tips and more

This isn’t just a book that explains menopause, symptoms and treatments, however. Each chapter is filled with handy self-help advice, from what clothing to wear to help hot flushes and good bedroom hygiene for night flushes to what to include in a workplace menopause policy and the best sex toys for symptoms and fun.

There’s even a guide to how to put on gel – which resulted in a ridiculous: “Oooooh, right…” from me as I hadn’t been doing it wrong, but I hadn’t been doing it right, neither.

In between are quotes from everyday women. It’s always good when a celebrity speaks out about their menopause, but it’s the woman on the bus next to you sharing her experiences that really hits home. She’s on the bus, going to work, stressed over the kids or the partner or the cat and hasn’t slept a wink, just like you. It’s why Menopause Cafés are so helpful and supportive and it’s great to see it here (for more women’s voices, check out The Menopause Monologues too. The second edition is out now – and I’m in it!!!)

Should you buy The M Word?

Go into a book shop and while you’ll still have to search to find books about menopause (usually hidden among “healthy eating” – *cough* “diet” – books…) there is a growing number out there and most of a high standard. So should you hand over your £9.99 for The M Word?

I’ve read a few menopause books and hand on heart, this is the one that I’ll keep on my bookshelf (the others I’ve given away). It may not be the most medically encyclopedic or touchy-feely, but it is the only one I’ve read that I wish I’d read five years ago. I didn’t have to re-read paragraphs or feel that I needed to make notes to understand what was being said.

If you’re after a no-nonsense book on menopause, this is for you. There’s no sugar-coating or advice to “love yourself first” (usually followed by the best expensive spa to visit). It is down-to-earth, practical and extremely readable – there’s no need for dictionaries here – which means it’s great for men, too.

I even like Dr Kaye’s jokes. Don’t judge me on that.

And there’s more…

I love that Dr Kaye’s website says she is “nosy”. When people ask me why I became a journalist, I say it’s because I’m nosy, too. It’s a necessary requirement in some jobs – especially a GP. The nosy doctor will ask about your family and your life as well as symptoms because that will help give a better insight as to what may be happening. When it comes to menopause – which isn’t a medical condition and lifestyle can play a huge part in getting through it – give me a nosy doctor any day.

We’re also the same height. Well, we were until menopause hit and I started shrinking.

The M Word: Everything You Need to Know About the Menopause by Dr Philippa Kaye, foreward by Vanessa Feltz, Summersdale, £9.99

*Did you know Mary Tudor had menstrual problems? Hilary Mantel has made me appreciate our ancestors even more. And made me even more determined to help women suffering today. I mean, it’s almost 500 years on and we’re still clinging to chairs during meetings worried that we’re about to collapse with pain…

What books or sites have helped you through menopause? Let me know what you think I should read in the comments below.

Copy of The M Word supplied for review purposes

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