Like most things to do with female health, conversations around menopause haven't always been open and honest.
For a long time, the area of menopause was under-researched (though this is changing!) and with limited access to resources or expert information, it led to many women dealing with the side effects of hormonal changes on their own.
As a result, conversations around menopause often became murky and shrouded in myth, with titbits of information trickling down, distorted from person to person. This can be deeply problematic – because when something that is not true is taken as truth, and a women’s own experience doesn’t correspond to those myths, they can feel like something is wrong with them, or perhaps not feel the need to seek out help.
Combined with the traditional lack of comprehensive study or medical research on menopause, these myths have become so prevalent that even some health professionals fall for them. So, we’re here to break down some of these pervasive rumours and tell you the truth behind menopause.
Menopause myth 1: ‘Menopause should only last a few years’
The standard balm handed out to women experiencing menopause is that they shouldn’t worry, because it’ll be over in a year or two. Now we don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but that isn’t exactly true.
According to research from Health and Her, perimenopause (the stage before menopause), can last an average of four years, from age 46 to 51, and menopause (once it’s been 12 consecutive months since your last period) can last on average four years too, from age 51 to 55. But for some women, the trajectory of menopause can last up to ten years.
Symptoms can come and go – so your experience of menopause can change from hot flushes to joint aches to migraines or you can get a consistent set of symptoms that remain present for a number of years, at varying severity.
What's important to know is that if your symptoms are lasting a bit longer than you’ve been told to expect them, this can be normal! And of course, you should seek out help for as long as you’re experiencing them – even if it’s for a longer period than we’d all like it to be.
Menopause myth 2: ‘You can't be pregnant if you're going through menopause’
Though many women may feel that one of the only things they don’t have to think about during menopause is the possibility of pregnancy, it’s important to remember that if you’re still having periods (however infrequently), you can still get pregnant.
There are a few ways to tell when you can safely stop using contraception without the possibility of conceiving: if you are under 50 and not taking any hormonal contraception (such as the pill), you should wait until two years after your last period before stopping contraception.
If you are over 50 and not using hormonal contraception, you should wait until one year after your period stops before stopping contraception. If you are taking hormonal contraception, it can be very difficult to work out what is happening with your period cycle, so it’s best – and safest – to wait until you reach the age of 55 to stop using it. At and beyond 55, it is very rare for women to conceive, so you should be safe.
Menopause myth 3: ‘The only symptom of menopause is hot flushes’
Did you know that there are over 30 recognised symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, and hot flushes is not the most common symptom?
Symptoms can include joint aches, low moods, urinary changes, hair and skin changes, low libido and more. In fact, based on research conducted by Health & Her, on average, women will experience a combination of nine symptoms each.
So, it’s important to remember that menopause is not limited to hot flushes – far from it – and you shouldn’t hesitate to get help if you’re feeling out of kilter emotionally, or experiencing any severe physical symptoms that are impacting your day to day life.
Menopause myth 4: ‘You can only tell you’re in menopause if your periods stop’
In actual fact, if you’re still having periods but experiencing symptoms, you could be in perimenopause – the stage before menopause. Menstrual changes, such as irregularity in cycle or flow, are common during perimenopause. But, if you’re taking hormonal contraception – or if you have erratic periods anyway – changing patterns can be difficult to identify.
This is why it’s important to remember that your symptoms can be just as helpful of an indicator of when you’re in menopause as your periods – so if you’re struggling with low moods, brain fog, skin changes, hot flushes, night sweats or any of the other recognised symptoms, and you’d like to seek some advice, take a visit to your GP.
Menopause myth 5: ‘You only experience menopause after 50’
Menopause has traditionally been seen as a challenge confined to the years after 50. When in actual fact, Health & Her’s research shows that the average age a woman experiences perimenopause is 46.
While a British Menopause Society study in 2016 found that the average age of menopause in the UK is 51, it is possible to go through menopause from the age of 30 onwards and in fact, 1 in 100 women experience it before 40.
There is no one age, one experience, or one way, for a woman to undergo menopause. Many women find that they get turned away from medical help because they are ‘too young’ to be going through menopause, but this may well not be accurate, certainly isn’t always helpful, and can lead to feelings of upset and frustration.
It’s important to remember that if you find you’re unable to get the support you need, then you may want to consider seeing a private menopause specialist GP who is highly experienced in female health.
Online menopause clinics, such as the Health & Her Clinic, offer accessible and affordable video consultations with menopause doctors so you can get tailored specialist advice at the touch of a button.
Menopause myth 6: ‘Menopause weight gain is inevitable and a bad thing’
One of the most challenging and common symptoms of menopause is weight gain. But remember that this weight gain can be moderated and, more importantly, is actually a way for your body to protect itself.
In response to lower ovarian oestrogen, your body will lay down fat cells (particularly around your belly) that are capable of oestrogen production. Your body is seeking to top-up hormone levels to help support your bones, heart, genitourinary system, and your brain health. So, this fat isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it actually works to help keep your body in top condition. A healthy diet and balanced lifestyle is essential though, as excess weight gain can be linked to heart disease.
It’s important to remember that weight gain is neither permanent nor inevitable. By ensuring your diet is healthy – cutting out sugar can help, alongside monitoring your intake to ensure you’re getting adequate amounts of protein – and establishing healthy exercise routines (swimming has been linked to improved circulation and alleviate menopause symptoms, while running can help with mood issues) you can control menopause weight gain to a level that is beneficial for you and your body.
Menopause myth 7: ‘Menopause isn’t that bad – you’re overreacting’
How many times have you heard this and wanted to scream? Many people underestimate the serious physical and psychological changes your body is undergoing as a result of hormonal decline.
Understandably, this can make many women feel like their own experience is undervalued, or prompt them to ‘grin and bear it’. The truth is, for many women, menopause can be incredibly difficult – in fact, 10% of women end up leaving the workforce due to the severity of their symptoms. And amongst this age group, rates of suicide and divorce are at their highest. So, if you’re struggling, you are not alone. You deserve adequate mental and physical care.
Menopause myth 8: ‘HRT is the only way to treat menopause symptoms’
Contrary to popular belief, this is not the case. HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) can be an incredibly effective option for many women in treating their menopause symptoms, by helping them to replace and replenish some of their depleting hormones. However, it is a considered choice to make for many women, and for others with a history of breast cancer or other medical issues, it can be inaccessible.
This can make the subject of menopause management a tricky one, as many people treat HRT as the only possible cure for menopausal ailments, when in fact, many women find alleviation of their symptoms by taking natural supplements or making lifestyle changes.
Alongside a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, and proteins, many women find natural supplements can help alleviate symptoms. Supplements that contain phytoestrogens (plant-based compounds that mimic oestrogen) may help mitigate some symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, mood issues or hot flushes.
As an example, the Health & Her Perimenopause and Menopause supplement range contain a variety of vitamins carefully formulated by an expert nutritionist that are specifically targeted to help combat symptoms.
There is also strong evidence that certain exercises and positive lifestyle habits can help. Digital resources such as the Health & Her Menopause App (available for FREE on iOS and Android), offers evidence-based exercises specifically targeted to aid symptoms – such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) for low mood, pelvic floor training for sensitive bladders or painful sex, and guided meditation for sleep, stress & anxiety.
Other exercises associated with an improvement in symptom management include yoga and cold water swimming, which can help with hot flushes and joint aches. So, though HRT is a viable and safe solution for many women, it is important to remember that it isn’t the only option.
Menopause myth 9: ‘Menopause disrupts your sex life for good’
While many women do experience some symptoms that make sex a bit more difficult, such as vaginal dryness and low libido, menopause is not the bedroom killer it’s made out to be. Many women continue to maintain healthy sex lives throughout and beyond menopause.
There are exercises that can improve these symptoms of menopause – such as pelvic floor exercises for painful sex, as well as CBT if you’re experiencing a low sex drive. Being able to communicate with your partner about how you’re feeling can also help build intimacy and foster a deeper connection, bringing you closer emotionally and physically.
Using external aids can also help to stimulate blood flow to the pelvis, aiding vaginal dryness, and can build up a heat that can get you in the mood. If you don’t feel like sex, that’s absolutely fine too, and you’re allowed to want space and time to deal with your emotions and physical symptoms. It’s just important to remember that menopause doesn’t spell the end of intimacy, for you or your partner.
Menopause myth 10: ‘It never ends’
One of the biggest misconceptions about menopause is that it is a terrible, awful experience for every woman. This isn’t true!
Menopause can be a complex, complicated, emotionally difficult and physically draining experience for a lot of women. Nobody is going to deny that. But for many, the severity of the symptoms can come and go, and you can still lead a rich, rewarding, fruitful life filled with joy.
Menopause won’t fundamentally change who you are – you are still a woman, you are still worthwhile, you are still growing and learning new things. It might take away the hassle of a monthly period when it's gone, but little else.
Many women we speak to who are at the other end of menopause report feeling empowered, and more able to live their own lives confidently after seeing just how strong and capable they – and their bodies – are. There is light at the end of the tunnel and the tunnel does end. We promise.
For help and support with perimenopause and menopause, speak to your GP.
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