Truth-teller: Dr Renee Hoenderkamp specialises in menopause and female health
Menopause has long been a taboo subject, but that’s changing – fast.
Only recently I presented a report for BBC’s Inside out, which debunked some of the most common menopause myths.
I also regularly appear on BBC Radio London to try and correct the countless non-truths around women’s health.
Yet, despite all this, I still hear from patients who are (understandably) confused by the amount of misinformation that persists.
So, in my continued bid to separate fact from fiction, here are the top myths that I hear constantly…
MENOPAUSE ONLY AFFECTS WOMEN
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 lose their jobs and household finances suffer.
So, this is actually an issue that will affect every single person at some point!
MENOPAUSE STARTS AT 50 AND OVER
The average age of menopause in the UK is 51. But it’s 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!
No set time: The average age of menopause in the UK is 51, but it’s only an average number, meaning there are younger and older women in the mix, too
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 women may be seeing their GP for menopause symptoms which are not being recognized because the assumption is that she is too young.
HOT FLUSHES ARE THE FIRST SIGN
Hot flushes and night sweats are common but many women don’t have either.
My experience is that anxiety, mood changes and depression are 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, see your GP and ask if its peri-menopause.
BIOIDENTICAL HORMONES ARE NOT AVAILABLE ON NHS
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 the NHS.
Tell-tale signs: Anxiety, mood changes and depression are probably the earliest symptoms and these often go unrecognised as menopause symptoms
Ask your GP for Oestrogel and utrogestan which is a totally bioidentical combination and can be tailored to suit you.
And don’t forget, there are so many ways to have HRT; tablets, patches, gels or a combination of these
YOU CAN’T HAVE HRT WHILE STILL HAVING PERIODS
Again, I hear patients who are told this by friends and sometimes even their GP. Its just not true.
For the 10 years leading up to menopause you may still be having periods, either regular or irregular and have full on symptoms which can be treated in the same way as if they had stopped completely.
YOU CAN ONLY USE HRT FOR FIVE YEARS
This one I hear almost daily. The NICE guidance says that under the age of 60 the benefits of HRT 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.
FAT PEOPLE CAN’T HAVE HRT
Weight to go: Weight, migraine, smoking and diabetes are reasons that women have been given to explain declined HRT – but these are all false
Just not true. Weight, migraine, smoking and diabetes are reasons I hear that women have been declined HRT for – and all are false.
PERIMENOPAUSE MEANS NO MORE BABIES
Definitely not true! Many a 50+ woman gets surprised by a perimenopause baby.
Until you have gone for 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.
So if you are not quite ready for a baby don’t take a chance, it only takes one good egg!
THE SYMPTOMS ARE ALL PHYSICAL
Sadly not. There are lots of hidden and mental health symptoms. Depression/anxiety and mood changes are common, affecting every aspect of life.
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.
ONLY MEN NEED TESTOSTERONE
Did you know? Loss of libido is common alongside fatigue and sometimes only testosterone replacement brings it back
Women only have a small amount of testosterone before menopause, about 10% of their total, but its loss can make a major difference.
Loss of libido is common alongside fatigue and sometimes only testosterone replacement brings it back.
BLADDER ISSUES ARE INEVITABLE WITH AGEING
This might be true, but it’s the loss of oestrogen that causes them in most cases. I see women who have cystitis type symptoms making life miserable.
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.
YOUR SEX LIFE ENDS AT MENOPAUSE
Goodness me, why should it.
You have another 30 years of life! Certainly sex can become painful as women can get vaginal atrophy but there are answers and it really doesn’t have to be the case.
Combinations of vaginal oestrogen, moisturisers, lubricants and/or HRT can bring back the intimacy.
View Dr Hoenderkamp’s YouTube vlog by clicking here.
She also set-up and runs the Non-Surgical Clinic, which specialises in injectable treatments such as Botox and filler.
Follow her on Twitter @DrHoenderkamp
WHY DO SOME SPECIES GO THROUGH MENOPAUSE?
Few animals are known to experience menopause, with most species reproducing until they die.
Alongside humans; killer whales, killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, beluga whales and narwhals have evolved the trait.
Typically, menopause is triggered when animals undergo hormonal changes that cause them to stop being able to reproduce.
Researchers suggest this biological ‘off-switch’ is useful in species who spend most of their lives looking after their descendants.
In killer whales, for example, both male and female offspring stay with their mothers for life, as well as grandchildren.
The mother is responsible for finding food, and if she kept having offspring her direct descendants would have to compete for resources.