One in four with menopause symptoms concerned about ability to cope with life

UK women get little support, advice or treatment for symptoms relating to menopause and hormonal changes, according to new research out today, resulting in one in four women saying they are struggling to cope with aspects of life due to their symptoms.

Almost half (47 per cent) of women with symptoms said they feel depressed, while more than a third (37 per cent) said they suffer from anxiety. Despite this, more than two thirds (67 per cent) of UK women say there is a general lack of support or advice for those going through the menopause

Women in the workplace fare even worse; a massive 72 per cent of female workers suffering symptoms said they feel unsupported at work, even though one in five (19 per cent) say their symptoms have a detrimental effect on their work. One in ten women said they have even considered quitting their job.

The findings are from research carried out by not-for-profit healthcare provider, Nuffield Health, who questioned 3275 women aged between 40 and 65. Of these, 2005 (62 per cent) said they were experiencing hormonal changes or menopause symptoms which result in them behaving differently, or which are having a detrimental effect on their lives. 

Dr Annie Evans, Menopause Specialist at Nuffield Health Bristol Hospital, said:
“Menopause is a condition which is often side-lined as just a fact of life, and not something to be taken seriously, but for many women the symptoms are extreme and can have a devastating impact on their life. Many feel anxious, confused, depressed and exhausted to the point where they are struggling to cope with daily routine.

The menopause is not something that just happens to women in their 50s, but can affect those in their 40s through to late 60s.   These women can suffer in silence for years when they could have been benefitting from tailored advice or support to help them understand what is going on."   

The survey also flags up a number of barriers that menopause experts say may be causing thousands of women to miss out on advice, management strategies or treatment which could significantly improve their quality of life. 

Despite reporting symptoms like joint and muscle ache, hot flushes, irregular periods, night sweats, mood swings and poor memory, 45% of women questioned failed to recognise they could be experiencing symptoms linked to the menopause, with just under half (42 per cent) mistakenly believing they are too young or too old for symptoms. A quarter simply put it down to stress.   

Just over a third (38 per cent) of women sought help from a GP. However, a quarter of those who visited a GP said the possibility of the symptoms being menopause related failed to come up. 

Despite recent evidence that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can significantly improve quality of life for many women, as well as protecting younger women from long term diseases including osteoporosis, a third of women who visited a GP were not made aware of hormone replacement therapy. In total, just one in five women (20 per cent) who visited a GP were prescribed HRT. A third were told HRT was unsuitable for them, while one in seven women (14 per cent) said they turned it down due to the belief that it is dangerous.

Dr Annie Evans said: 
“Increasingly the evidence shows appropriate hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to be suitable for many women, with far less risks than previously thought. The options should be carefully explained to each individual woman, in light of her own risks, future goals and the quality of life she is experiencing. It is an absolute tragedy that large numbers of women are getting no help at all.”

The research suggests that despite the sheer numbers of women dealing with symptoms of hormone change and menopause, the subject remains taboo in the workplace. A staggering nine out of ten (90 per cent) said they felt unable to talk to a manager or colleague at work. However, almost one in five (18 per cent) said they have needed to take time off work and one in fifty (two per cent) of working age women with symptoms are on long term sick leave. 

Dr Julie Ayres, Specialist in Menopause and PMS at Nuffield Health Leeds, said:  
“The issue needs to be dragged into the 21st century. Increasingly employers are beginning to take employee health and wellbeing seriously, with numerous initiatives to help improve health and fitness, yet clearly the menopause remains taboo. Until we shine a spotlight on the subject and try to tackle some of the difficulties that women are facing at work, we stand to lose experienced and talented women who should be at the peak of their career rather than facing forced retirement or feeling alienated.

“I have many patients who couldn’t cope with work without hormone replacement therapy and wouldn’t even contemplate stopping until they retire. Any woman struggling in the workplace should seek help and look at all of the options available.”

Last updated Thursday 14 September 2017

First published on Friday 17 October 2014