DR MAX: Women facing menopause are betrayed by a toxic mixture of misogyny, ageism and ignorance

Night sweats. Mood swings. Insomnia. Hot flushes. Weight gain. Headaches. Depression. Anxiety. Palpitations. Joint symptoms . . . I could go on.

It’s a grim list, isn’t it? Yet these are just a few side-effects of the menopause.

No doubt you would assume that a combination of such symptoms in women in their 40s and 50s would be enough to at least pique a doctor’s interest and mobilise them into action.

Well, you would be wrong. As the Mail reported yesterday, too many women approaching or going through the change of life end up being ignored, fobbed off by their GPs, or given a ‘sticking plaster’ prescription for antidepressant drugs.

As the Mail reported yesterday, too many women approaching or going through the change of life end up being ignored, fobbed off by their GPs, or given a ‘sticking plaster’ prescription for antidepressant drugs

Shameful

Around 13 million British women are menopausal — but, according to a survey of 1,500 for the influential online forums Mumsnet and Gransnet, one in four have to visit their GP at least three times before getting appropriate treatment, including HRT.

This is an absolute scandal.

The menopause is defined as when regular monthly periods stop. The average age for this is 51. But symptoms can begin several months or years before this, in what is known as the perimenopause, when levels of oestrogen and progesterone start to fluctuate.

At a time when many more people — male and female — are better informed than ever about the possible consequences of the menopause, when it is deemed ‘OK’ to talk about it publicly and there are even campaigns for it to be acknowledged in the workplace, I see it as a shameful betrayal by the medical establishment of those women finding it difficult to cope.

You can be sure that if it was men who had to deal with such symptoms, delays in accessing treatment would not be an issue.

What’s worse, when some women finally manage to get therapeutic help, it’s often the wrong treatment.

The most common menopausal symptoms, such as anxiety or palpitations, are too frequently dismissed as ‘psychological’ and patients are given antidepressants —the medical equivalent of a patronising pat on the knee.

I’ve seen this several times in my own clinics. Women have been referred to me because they are depressed, but when you listen to what they are saying, it rapidly becomes clear that their difficulties are the result of the menopause.

Mindfulness and meditation techniques can often help with hot flushes. But for some women there is no doubt that the symptoms can profoundly affect their lives and HRT can be a godsend

Mindfulness and meditation techniques can often help with hot flushes. But for some women there is no doubt that the symptoms can profoundly affect their lives and HRT can be a godsend

One patient I saw was taking antidepressants, a beta-blocker to deal with palpitations (which had been put down to anxiety) and a highly addictive anti-anxiety medication. She had tried to tell her GP that the symptoms had taken hold as she was going through the menopause. He ignored her.

She asked for HRT, but he refused to prescribe it and declined to give a satisfactory reason why.

So convinced was she that her symptoms were a direct result of hormonal changes that she went privately to get HRT. Within a few months of starting it, her depression and anxiety had vanished, she was able to stop all the other medication and did not need to see me any more.

I’m a passionate advocate for the NHS, but something is seriously wrong here. GPs are the crucial gatekeepers to the health service, but it’s just plain wrong that they are denying a range of treatments to women whose lives could be transformed by them.

The menopause is, of course, a natural phenomenon. It is not an illness and it should not be viewed as such. Nor is HRT right for everyone.



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