'Change' starts at 50 and weight gain – menopause myths every woman needs to know

IT'S long been shrouded in mystery – but the tide is turning, with celebrities like Davina McCall opening up about their experience of the menopause.

Here, Dr Louise Newson corrects some common myths.

Traditionally seen as something to keep quiet, many of the 13 million living with the menopause in the UK have endured symptoms without help or support.

But as more women, including Spice Girl Emma Bunton, open up about their experiences, things are changing, in a shift dubbed “Menopause Power” by film critic Kate Muir and women’s health expert Maisie Hill.

“Women and healthcare professionals have been given incorrect information about the menopause and the safety and benefits of HRT (hormone replacement therapy),” says Dr Louise Newson, a leading menopause expert.

“This means women’s health has suffered for decades.

"Many give up work due to symptoms, some lose their partners or even contemplate suicide.

"This needs to change. It is essential women are empowered with information so they can make individual decisions on future treatment.”

From first symptoms to post-menopausal sex, Dr Newson helps us break down the biggest misconceptions surrounding the “M” word. 

1. The menopause starts at 50 

“The average age for starting the menopause is 51 in the UK.

"However, many women start to experience symptoms of the perimenopause in their 40s when their periods begin to change.

"One in 100 women under 40 and one in 1,000 under 30 experience an early menopause.

"Hormones can change at any age, so it is essential that all women know about potential symptoms so they can receive help and treatment early.”

2. Hot flushes are the first sign

“Hot flushes and night sweats are very common, but they don’t occur in every woman.

"Other symptoms such as memory problems, brain fog, reduced motivation, low energy, poor sleep, headaches, muscle and joint pains, low libido and urinary symptoms are other common perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms.”

3. It is easy to spot when it starts

“Many women do not recognise the way they are feeling as being related to their low hormone levels.

"It can be very common for women to attribute the symptoms to other causes, such as life or work stresses, as often the symptoms come on very gradually.

"Get my Balance app for free menopause advice and to start monitoring symptoms.

"A health report can then be downloaded and taken to a doctor or healthcare professional to start a conversation about receiving treatment (Balance-app.com).”

4. HRT is bad for your health

“For the majority of women, there are more benefits than risks in taking HRT, which improves symptoms and reduces risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia and osteoporosis.

"Some of the older types of HRT may have an increased risk of breast cancer, but this is very small and most types have no associated risks.

"To put it into context, the risk of breast cancer in women who are overweight or who drink a moderate amount of alcohol is higher than the risk with any type of HRT.

"If you take HRT in tablet form this can slightly increase the risk of stroke and blood clots, but again the risk is very low and can actually be avoided by taking it in patch, gel or spray form which goes on the skin.

"It then enters the bloodstream directly and doesn’t have to be metabolised by the liver – which produces clotting factors – so there is no risk of clot or stroke.”

5. It’s the end of your sex life

“Absolutely not. Some women find sex becomes painful or less pleasurable and also their libido often reduces, but there are many treatments available that can improve these symptoms.

"Taking HRT containing oestrogen and testosterone can boost libido.

"There are also different vaginal hormonal preparations that can be used with or without HRT, which can improve vaginal dryness.

"Many women find they start to feel better and their self-confidence and self-esteem improves when they receive treatment, which then positively impacts on their sex lives.”

6. Wait until symptoms are unbearable before taking HRT

“You can start HRT as soon as you begin experiencing symptoms, even if you are still having periods, so you won’t put up with symptoms for as long and the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis is reduced.

7. I had periods young, so I’ll go through menopause early

“It is very difficult to predict the age of a woman becoming menopausal.

"In some cases, if women have family members who had an early menopause, they are more likely to be younger when they experience it themselves.”

8. You’ll gain weight

“Reduced oestrogen levels that occur during and after the menopause can often lead to weight gain.

"It’s because fat cells contain a weak type of the hormone, so as the body tries to restore levels, women find they put on weight.

"It’s not a very effective way of producing oestrogen and so women who take HRT – which contains a better type of oestrogen – will often lose weight.

"In addition, women who are going through the menopause have reduced motivation, as well as muscle and joint pain, so they are less likely to exercise.

"Eating a healthy diet is important, as is reducing sugar and processed foods. Exercising regularly and cutting down on your alcohol intake is also beneficial.

"Many women find that they lose weight when they start taking the right dose and type of HRT.”

9. Natural remedies are safer than taking HRT

“Just because a treatment is natural, it doesn’t mean it is safe.

"Unlike HRT, most natural remedies haven’t been thoroughly researched or tested.

"Some women find that products such as sage, red clover or evening primrose oil help with symptoms, but there is no good-quality evidence that these products work and they do not help improve future health in the way that taking HRT does.”

10. You can only take HRT for five years

“This idea is based on outdated research, but some doctors still wrongly think this is true.

"Actually, HRT can be taken for as long as the benefits outweigh the risks, which for most women, usually means for the rest of their life.” 

  • For help and support in dealing with the menopause, visit Menopausedoctor.co.uk and Themenopausecharity.org.

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