According to what is believed to be the largest survey of menopausal women conducted in the UK, approximately 333,000 women aged 45-55 leave their job due to menopausal symptoms.
And a former midwife from Whitstable has shared her struggles with the menopause and believes the current lack of information and support for women is “outrageous” and “completely unfair”.
The former midwife shares her experience of the menopause
Piroska Cavell, who runs Clinic Sese, said that when she started to experience menopausal symptoms it felt like “time was running out”.
At 55 she started to notice her body, mind and overall behaviour changing – something that not many women are prepared for.
And this is a trend seen up and down the country, highlighted by new research from the Fawcett Society.
The research, which featured in Davina McCall’s new Channel 4 documentary last week, found that one in 10 women are forced to quit their job due to the severity of their symptoms.
It also found that 14% of women had reduced their hours at work, 14% had gone part-time, and 8% had not applied for promotion.
A total of 45% of women surveyed said they had not talked to someone at their GP practice about menopause, and even among women with five or more severe symptoms, 29% didn’t feel confident enough to speak to a GP or nurse.
Interestingly, when women did speak to a health professional, 31% surveyed said that it took many appointments for their GP to realise they were experiencing the menopause or perimenopause and some women will be offered anti-depressants instead of the hormone therapy they desperately need.
This increased to 45% among women of colour and 42% for women with five or more severe symptoms.
Piroska has had plenty of medical training in the past, working as a midwife before opening her own medical clinic, and she believes that menopause isn’t recognised as a serious condition which needs to be rectified.
She said: “You have your bowel screening invitation come through the post when you hit 50, so I think you should be offered to go and see someone to see if you need HRT.
“We have lots of conditions where if it’s impacting on your quality of life and your psychosocial function, which many things do, you are offered some help.
“I think that’s the thing, very often women are dismissed, which is absolutely unbelievable, that shouldn’t be happening to people in this day and age.”
Some common symptoms experienced during the menopause are irregular periods, hot flushes, night sweats, low mood or anxiety, reduced libido and problems with memory and concentration.
Jeanette Forder, 57, a menopause expert from Phoenix Wellness in Rochester explained exactly why this happens.
She said: “During perimenopause, we can become more susceptible to stress and anxiety, where often the simplest of things we used to do with ease can become so much more difficult to handle and we just don’t know why.
“Well, there is a simple scientific reason why many women feel more stressed and anxious and less able to manage these feelings as they experienced perimenopause – it’s hormones.
“As we experience perimenopause, our ovaries begin to reduce the amount of progesterone and oestrogen that they release.
“Of course, as the number of eggs we produce reduces and slows through perimenopause, so too does the production of these hormones, but progesterone and oestrogen aren’t only produced by the ovaries.
“Our adrenal glands, which are positioned just above our kidneys, also produce progesterone and oestrogen to, but in much smaller quantities than our ovaries.”
Jeanette continued: “However, when our ovaries stop producing these hormones, our adrenal glands don’t – they continue to do so and with good reason.
“Our bodies and minds really benefit from the good positive impacts of having oestrogen present in our systems.
“But when we feel stressed, our most basic of survival instincts kick in – the fight or flight instinct – which comes from the release of cortisol and adrenaline from our adrenal glands.
“As you can imagine, it’s hard for these glands to produce all four hormones and so our brain will always opt to fulfil the most basic of instincts to survive – they literally prioritise survival over fertility.
“So when we’re stressed, the adrenal glands prioritise the production and release of cortisol and adrenaline over progesterone and oestrogen which means that we will feel higher levels of stress because the adrenal glands have gone into that survival mode.”
For Piroska, the anxiety and depression were the most crippling symptoms of all, leading to a complete lack of self-confidence.
She said: “I think mentally it’s the loss of confidence that suddenly happens – it’s like the floor has been taken away from you, and you feel that you shouldn’t be wearing certain things anymore.
“You suddenly notice also that your wardrobe becomes nearly entirely black. It is a really subtle thing, but when you open the doors to your wardrobe, you think hang on how did that happen?”
“I’ve started looking around at younger people thinking gosh, I just want to bottle their enthusiasm. Time’s running out, you know.
“Most of us are vibrant women out there doing things, still living life, having careers, having fun- we’re not ready to give up at all.”
“It’s the loss of confidence that suddenly happens – it’s like the floor has been taken away from you…”
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a common treatment for women going through the menopause to replace the hormones lost through tablets, skin patches and gels.
Prescriptions for HRT have more than doubled in England over the past five years, according to NHS data.
Figures from OpenPrescribing suggest nearly 538,000 prescriptions for HRT treatment were issued in December, compared with 238,000 in January 2017.
However, there is currently a shortage of HRT in the UK with demand outstripping supply, something which Piroska believes could be very dangerous.
“It’s devastating – it’s a life changer for so many women that they won’t want to go back to their life before HRT,” she said.
Piroska continued: “The thought of reverting back will make women explore other avenues, maybe not a sensible avenue, to try and get hold of it.
“You know, and that’s the thing, it leaves them open to unscrupulous people who are going to try and offer them things on the black market, and obviously that is a worry.
“It has to be prescribed, it has to be monitored, but women will be desperate because the alternative of not having HRT is so awful.”
The Department of Health said while most of the 70 HRT products available in the UK remain in good supply, a range of factors including an increase in demand has led to shortages of a limited number of products including Oestrogel.
Vaccine Taskforce director general Madelaine McTernan had been appointed to spearhead a new HRT Supply Taskforce and a serious shortage protocol (SSP) has been issued to limit the dispensing of three products in high demand to ensure women are able to access the HRT they need.
The Oestrogel pump-pack 750mcg/actuation gel, Ovestin 1mg cream, and Premique low dose 0.3mg/1.5mg modified release tablets are all included in the SSP, which will be reviewed after July 29.