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Top 5 menopause myths busted by leading experts

Menopause myths - middle aged woman smiling on sofa. (Getty Images)
Everyone's experience of menopause is different. (Getty Images)

We have come a long way with our understanding of menopause. But with increased discussion, we need to be mindful the lines don't get blurred between what is and isn't factual.

"Menopause is a hot topic. Our grandmothers would probably be shocked – and perhaps delighted – to overhear current conversations about menopause in the media, workplace and society. We’ve made progress, but there are downsides," says Dr Paula Briggs, British Menopause Society (BMS) chair and consultant in sexual and reproductive health.

"Increased awareness has led to confusion and anxiety for many women, with misinformation and conflicting advice."

So, instead of adding new 'menopause-must-knows' to your plate, here's what you should know about the things you've probably already heard of, but aren't quite sure what the truth is behind them. The experts at BMS are here to set the record straight.

1. 'I’m missing out if I can’t have HRT'

hrt patch
To HRT or not to HRT? (Getty Images)

"There’s a lot of confusion about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Some women are concerned it is dangerous and increases cancer risk. Others believe they’re missing out if they don’t get it," says Mr Haitham Hamoda, consultant gynaecologist and BMS Trustee.

"However, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Every woman is different. The decision to take HRT is personal and should be made with the support of a healthcare professional – based on individual medical history, needs, and preferences."

There is, however, some general advice to consider.

"What we can do is reassure women that the risk of breast cancer from HRT is low in both medical and statistical terms. It should be considered in the context of the overall benefit obtained from using HRT in improving quality of life, as well as improving bone and cardiovascular health," adds Mr Hamoda.

"For the majority of women taking HRT, the benefits outweigh the risks. Plus, if women can’t or choose not to take HRT, there are alternatives they can discuss with a healthcare professional."

2. 'Menopause is miserable – it’s all downhill from here'

Depressed or unwell pretty middle-aged woman seated at a table indoors resting her head on her hand with closed eyes and a serious withdrawn expression
Menopause doesn't look like one type of way. (Getty Images)

"'The change', 'the climacteric', 'the time of life' – call it what you will, it is an unavoidable fact that all women go through menopause. However, for many women this natural process is a time of anxiety and distress due to the various symptoms that can accompany it," says Dr Briggs. "But with increased awareness of menopause, many women who aren't experiencing symptoms are unnecessarily fearful of what's to come."

Everyone is different, and no matter how much you anticipate it, your experience will be unique to you.

"It’s important to note that while symptoms are common, not everyone will struggle through menopause. Women experience menopause in widely varying ways. It may help to remember that it is not unusual to feel that your body is changing dramatically, or equally, that it has hardly changed at all."

3. 'Menopause kills your sex life'

"Sex can change through the menopause, but it doesn’t need to be game over," says Dr Briggs. "Sexual desire can decrease or increase, and menopause symptoms that hold women back from an active sex life are treatable.

"For example, HRT may improve sexual function due to its action on the arousal centres in the brain. And vaginal dryness and soreness can be effectively treated with vaginal estrogens, moisturisers and lubricants. Non-hormonal treatments include psychosexual counselling [a sex therapist offering specialist treatment], which has proven success rates."

Top view, sleeping and black couple in bed in morning after fighting, argument and relationship problem. Depression, dating and male in bed with woman with sexual frustrated, infertility and stress
Menopause doesn't have to ruin your sex life. (Getty Images)

4. 'Testosterone will help every woman – I need it too'

"While there’s been media coverage about the benefits of testosterone therapy for menopause, the only current recommended reason for prescribing it is persistent low sex drive in women. And only after all other possible factors, including taking HRT, have been addressed," Dr Briggs emphasises.

"However, even in these circumstances testosterone does not help everyone. Sexual desire is complex and other help is available – and often more effective. There is not currently enough clinical evidence to recommend testosterone use for low energy, low mood, fatigue or brain fog.

"More research is needed before we would suggest its use more widely."

Testosterone pill, conceptual image
'More research is needed.'

5. 'I only deserve help if I am really suffering'

Everyone should be entitled to help.

"Menopause isn't just hot flushes and women don't need to suffer in silence. Every menopause is different and every woman deserves support through this transition. Hot flushes can be debilitating and symptoms can be both physical (dry skin, headaches, vaginal dryness) and psychological (depressed mood, anxiety, mood swings)," explains Dr Briggs.

"Women experience menopause in a variety of ways. It is not unusual to feel that your body is changing dramatically, and equally, that it has hardly changed at all.

"The most important thing is that whatever your symptoms, advice and support is available. Be aware of any changes and consult your GP or another healthcare professional for advice."

Depression, anxiety and thinking senior woman with a mental health problem in the window reflection of a house. Sad, stress and elderly person with an idea, tired and depressed during retirement
Everyone's experience is valid. (Getty Images)

If you have menopausal symptoms that are affecting you or you're experiencing symptoms before 45, it's worth talking to your GP. They can usually confirm whether you're menopausal, and offer treatments and suggest lifestyle changes if you have severe symptoms that interfere with your daily life.

You can also find support and advice from The Menopause Charity.

Whatever you're going through, you can call the Samaritans now for free, from any phone, at any time, on 116 123 – a friendly voice will be there to listen – or email jo@samaritans.org.

If you think someone is in immediate danger, the quickest way to get help is to call an ambulance on 999.

Read more on menopause:

Watch: NHS should offer women therapy for the menopause, new guidance says