While everyone has a different experience of the menopause, senior nurse and menopause expert, Kathy Abernethy, says that more and more of the women she sees every year are saying the same thing: that they find it hard to get the support and advice they need.
"The biggest misconception women come up against is that they're told the menopause is a short phase- lasting maybe 2 or 3 years- that will naturally improve on its own" says Kathy. "Whereas the reality is that menopause symptoms can actually go on for as long as 15 years.
"In fact, I often see women in their 60s and 70s who entered the menopause in their 50s, and they're still experiencing hot flushes and night sweats.
"While women are a tough bunch, a common complaint I hear is that doctors are vague and patchy in their advice about managing hormones during the menopause. This is perhaps down to the HRT health scares 10 or more years ago which made doctors reluctant to recommend HRT too casually, and too busy to look into natural alternatives for women, meaning they fall back on the typical ‘change your diet, give up smoking, it’ll go on its own’ answer. But for many women, this isn’t the solution.”
Kathy wants to promote a personalised and tailored approach to the menopause, to put women back in control, rather than run scared of the changes to their bodies. She shares her expert advice on what might work for you, depending on which of these three most common groups you fall into.
If you're experiencing a "normal" menopause...
A "normal" menopause typically means that you started your menopause in your 50s, have about four or five hot flushes a week, and perhaps feel a bit tired and irritable, along with a few other symptoms. The changes to your body are irritating but it's not taking over your life.
In this case, it's likely that you want to manage and take control of your menopause without the help of HRT. And with a few tweaks to your lifestyle and diet, there is no reason at all why this can't happen.
If this describes your menopause, Kathy recommends considering dietary supplements. "If you choose a natural approach, because you don't want or need HRT, I'd suggest looking at isoflavones". Isoflavones can take the edge off common symptoms for many of us and you'll find them in foods like lentils, chickpeas and broad beans, as well as in a supplement like Promensil, available from most health food stores.
If you're having an extreme menopause...
Around 25 per cent of women experience an extreme menopause, where the symptoms are a lot less manageable. And in this case, you may need to look at HRT.
"If you have an extreme menopause, you often have very severe menopause symptoms, such as hot flushes ten times a day, sweats all night and sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, etc...meaning HRT may be an effective therapy choice” Kathy says.
If you're having an early menopause...
“I meet a lot of women in their thirties who have sadly experienced a very early menopause – perhaps they were trying for a baby or not completed their family yet and the hormone changes can come as a big shock and it can be a very distressing time" says Kathy.
"These women need more than just a diet and lifestyle change, they also require counselling and HRT. Everyone is different and an individual approach is essential.”
Get the help and advice you need
Whatever category you fall in to, it's important that you have access to the right information and support.
Health policy specialist Natasha North is leading a new intiative called #changethechange for the NHS, which is urging women to get together, create open forums, share your experiences, get the facts on the menopause and get it on the national agenda as a topic that doesn't have to be taboo. You can find out how you can join in.
- There's more health advice in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.