Doctor calls on soaps to reflect the reality of menopause and HRT

A Dr is calling on soaps to help raise further awareness about menopause and HRT. (Getty Images)
A doctor is calling on soaps to help raise further awareness about menopause and HRT. (Getty Images)

A doctor is calling on soaps to continue to reflect the reality of menopause and highlight the importance of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).

While some programmes have featured storylines about the menopause, Dr Louise Newson believes they could go even further to help tackle the stigma surrounding women's health issues.

The GP and menopause specialist said many of the “millions” of women who would benefit remain unaware of HRT.

HRT works by replacing the hormones a woman’s body no longer produces because of the menopause.

Dr Newson described HRT as “as close to a wonder drug as menopausal women could wish for” and noted how women who take it also have a lower risk of developing a number of common diseases, such as heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia.

Read more: Menopause sex: The surprisingly hot truth

Ellie Leach was involved in a menopause storyline in Coronation Street. (Matt Crossick/PA Wire)
Actress Ellie Leach was involved in a menopause storyline in Coronation Street. (Matt Crossick/PA Wire)

She went on to discuss her thoughts after hearing a character in The Archers decline HRT for her perimenopausal symptoms because she wanted to be “natural”.

“So, yes, just a mention for the perimenopause on The Archers is fantastic," she wrote in Radio Times.

“And it’s encouraging that there have also been storylines on EastEnders and Emmerdale; but we can’t continue to rely, dramatically, on the old tropes about HRT being harmful and that the menopause only affects midlife or older women.”

Dr Newson often appears alongside Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield on This Morning supporting the ITV show’s menopause campaign.

Read more: Lisa Snowden opens up on menopause: 'You feel so lost'

She added: “But it’s the soaps, with their high viewing figures and wide social spread, that can reach ethnic, socio-economic and age groups that The Archers does not.

“There are a lot of cultures where taking HRT or even admitting you’re menopausal is seen as a failure due to the fertility issues associated with ageing.

“By helping these women, we’d also be helping ourselves; the cost of treating the symptoms and the diseases that are associated with the menopause would far outweigh the cost to the NHS of increased HRT take-up.

“This country has some of the best television and radio creative talent in the world; it’s time they focused on the menopause and HRT.”

There is still a stigma surrounding menopause. (Getty Images)
There is still a stigma surrounding menopause. (Getty Images)

Coronation Street has also featured storylines about menopause.

In May, the soap aired scenes in which Faye Windass, played by Ellie Leach, was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure and offered HRT.

Watch: Male MPs try hot flush vest to experience menopause symptoms

Dr Newson isn't the only expert trying to switch up the conversation surrounding menopause.

Earlier this year an international group of experts argued that treating the menopause as a deficiency needing treatment is inaccurate and that "medicalisation" fuels negative expectations and perceptions that could be unhelpful for some women.

Some women who suffer from hot flushes and night sweats, for example, may benefit from menopausal hormone therapy, known as HRT. But, while there is no universal experience, most women prefer not to take medication unless their symptoms are severe.

In a paper for the BMJ, the authors, including Professor Myra Hunter, of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience at King's College London, see an "urgent need" for "a more realistic and balanced narrative that challenges stigma around ageing in women".

This includes preparing them for expected changes and recognising the menopause as a natural process with both positive and negative aspects.

Read more: Penny Lancaster shares weight loss photos after 'turning to food for comfort' during menopause

Menopause is used to describe the time period when women or people who menstruate stop having periods and can no longer get pregnant naturally.

While it technically refers to the day you haven't had a period for 12 months consecutively, it is often used to depict the whole transition, from noticing changes or experiencing menopausal symptoms.

A detailed review of factors affecting attitudes towards menopause found women had a more optimistic view of the menopause once they'd been through it, compared with their perceptions before. This suggests "negative socially mediated expectations do not always match the reality of women’s experiences".

Despite this, the positive aspects of menopause – which include freedom from menstruation, pregnancy, and contraception – are rarely discussed in medical literature, they point out.

This comes after reports earlier this year showing that shortages of HRT are leaving some women battling insomnia, and other troubling health problems.

Read more: Lorraine Kelly opens up about the anxiety she suffered during menopause

Is it time to switch up the conversation surrounding menopause and HRT? (Getty Images)
Is it time to switch up the conversation surrounding menopause and HRT? (Getty Images)

Celebrities are also trying to kickstart the conversation surrounding menopause.

Last year the Countess of Wessex joined a growing band of high-profile women trying to change the narrative surrounding menopause.

The popular royal opened up about her own experience of going through the menopause, describing losing her train of thought on royal engagements and feeling as if somebody had "taken her brain out".

She also called for more frank conversations surrounding the subject and more support for women, as she became patron of the charity Wellbeing of Women.

In her TV programme Sex, Myths and Menopause Davina McCall also shared her experiences of starting the menopause.

“I thought I was going mad. I even thought I was possibly getting some sort of early-onset dementia," she said. "The menopause didn’t even cross my mind because I was young – 44 – so I battled on for a year. I didn’t know who to talk to, where to go."

Read the full interview with Dr Newson in Radio Times, out now.

Additional reporting PA.