One of Harrogate’s leading health experts is calling for greater education and awareness of the menopause and its effect on women.
Dr Clare Spencer, the new menopause specialist at BMI The Duchy Hospital in Harrogate, is using her expertise to help women cope with a pivotal time in their lives.
Understanding has been boosted in recent years by an increase in coverage by the national media, with high-profile women including Kirsty Wark and Mariella Frostrup talking about their experiences.
But, according to Dr Spencer, despite having access to more information than ever before many women still don’t know enough.
“We need greater education, understanding and awareness of the menopause – and women need to know that they can ask for help,” says Dr Spencer, who focuses on helping women make informed choices at her new menopause clinic at BMI The Duchy Hospital in Queen’s Road.
“From what I’ve seen, there’s a lack of recognition that in your mid to late 40s you might start getting symptoms of the perimenopause, which is when your ovaries start winding down.
“Women at this stage often experience irregular periods and mood changes, and feel anxious and unable to cope, but they don’t realise these are due to the menopause. Many of them think, or are told, that they are too young to be going through it. This is why the increase in publicity and awareness is brilliant.”
With 51 being the average age that a woman in the UK reaches the menopause, and around 1 in 100 experiencing it before the age of 40, many have to cope with its effects while juggling a job and a young family.
And that is why greater education and understanding is needed not just among women themselves but also among GPs and employers, says Dr Spencer, who gives regular educational talks to GPs in Harrogate and Leeds.
“Often women are not diagnosed properly because there’s a lack of awareness that the menopause can happen at any age,” she says. “About one per cent of my patients have premature ovarian insufficiency, which is when the menopause begins early. Some are in their 20s and, for them, it can be devastating because all their hopes of having children are dashed.
“I also see women in their 60s, 70s and sometimes even their 80s who have struggled for years and have had enough. It’s all about how your body and brain reacts to the hormone changes caused by the menopause, and unfortunately some women are just really sensitive to it.
“Just as some have post-natal depression or PMS (premenstrual syndrome), others struggle with the menopause. It’s totally beyond their control.”
Dr Spencer welcomes recent moves by some major corporations to introduce a menopause policy in the workplace, adding: “Women can be criticised or made to feel inadequate if their performance drops off at work. It can lead to them giving up work or changing their job. So it’s great that the likes of Channel 4 and Severn Water are leading the way in putting menopause policies in place.
“This acknowledges that women in their mid-40s onwards may be experiencing menopausal symptoms and may need workplace adaptations and flexibility at work. Simple things such as opening a window or putting a fan on the desk, to providing a uniform that accommodates a changing body shape, can make a real difference.”
So how can women cope with the symptoms they experience? She says lifestyle changes can make a difference, like eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising as well as cutting down on alcohol and smoking.
“For many women, HRT makes a real difference, while others find it more helpful to take herbal alternatives. A lot of what I do is advising women on the risks and benefits of HRT, and these can be different for each individual,” she adds.
“The important thing is that women are given the information they need to enable them to make an informed decision on what’s best for them. GPs are a great port of call but also talk to your friends, talk to your employer or someone at work, or seek out a community group.
“In 1900, the average age at which women reached the menopause was 57 and life expectancy was 59. In 2017, the figures were 51 and 82, which means women can now spend over a third of their life going through the menopause. So please don’t struggle in silence. Help really is there if you need it.”
BMI The Duchy Hospital in Harrogate will be holding a free information evening with Dr Spencer in April, focusing on how to recognise and manage symptoms of the menopause. Women can also see Dr Spencer by calling the hospital directly: for more information or to book an appointment call 01423 567 136 or 0800 068 1415.