The end of a woman’s fertile life marks the beginning of her new life, now wiser, more experience, and confident, the second spring is the time for a woman to put herself first, yet the onset of peri-menopause and menopause can bring with it a number of unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms as hormone levels begin to dwindle. These symptoms are often a reason for patients to come and seek the benefits of acupuncture.
Whilst the experience is different for every woman, I decided to conduct a short survey amongst women between 35-60 years old to understand more about the physical and emotional roller-coaster that is peri-menopause. Admittedly, not statistically robust because it was sent to women I know and by definition this includes some who are therapists themselves and therefore quite body aware, but nevertheless some interesting facts emerged not only about the symptoms women have experienced, but also our feelings about how we see ourselves post menopause and how society sees us.
The findings reflected the typical symptoms associated with menopause and what I see in the clinic; 50% have experienced night sweats and difficulty sleeping, 45% hot flushes and 38% dry skin, but also symptoms not always associated with peri-menopause emerged. One-third experience itchy skin, which can be unbearable for some women, caused by decreasing levels of oestrogen also responsible for collagen formation. Migraines, headaches and joint pain were experienced by about 25% of women, and palpitations and dry eyes experienced by about 1 in 5.
It is often more difficult to cope with emotions at this time and these are the symptoms that take women by surprise.
“It was the peri menopause that took me by surprise as I wasn’t expecting it. It made me cry a great deal and have totally irrational feelings when I wasn’t expecting them which was worrying.”
45% have experienced feelings of irritability and more than a third have had feelings or anxiousness and mood swings. One respondent said
“I feel like I am going mad, one minute I could take on the world, the next I am either in tears over nothing or barking and shouting at anyone who comes within 3 feet of me!”
How Society feels about Menopause
The survey revealed some negative feelings around onset of menopause in a Western country. 62% of respondents taking the survey agreed that in our society, where the elderly are not particularly valued, menopause marks the beginning of ageing and declining, and 75% felt that whilst we acknowledge menarche (onset of periods) as a well recognised stage in a woman’s life, menopause is frequently ignored or underestimated.
Despite this background, our survey suggests that women remain positive, more than half, 58%, were not concerned that as they age they may not receive the same levels of respect from our society, and 70% were ready to ensure that they were continuing to make a valuable contribution.
How Women feel about themselves and their Bodies
Peri-menopause is certainly a time for a bit of reassessment of our health and our bodies, but interestingly almost all, 96%, see menopause as a transitional phase and only 16% see it as a medical condition.
It seems that for some women, the menopause is something of an elephant in the room. The survey was conducted amongst informed women, but still 42% said they felt menopause was something that is not talked about much between friends or older female family members, and a third felt they didn’t really know much about what to expect, how the process might happen, and how long it would take. 42% also agreed that women often feel in denial about their impending menopause.
Whilst there is often a myriad of information on all sorts of health issues available at GP surgeries, often menopause was not one of them.
“GP surgeries should have info leaflets about it……complementary medicine also as a role to play to help educate women”
60% or us have concerns around starting to look old and unattractive, and 20% are very concerned, but we are slightly more concerned about health issues such as cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis 65%, though the context of other health issues has a role to play in how we feel about our peri-menopause
“As I am still menstruating and don’t seem to have any symptoms of the peri menopause yet despite being 50 I still worry about contraception and the possibility of becoming pregnant. I also have rheumatoid arthritis and this condition concerns me more than the peri menopause”
That said there is no lack of enthusiasm to approach Second Spring with positivity. 68% said they are ready to embrace this new phase of life as an opportunity for personal development, with more than a quarter saying they are very ready, and equally women are ready to make a few adjustments to diet and lifestyle to minimise any potential health issues, 61%.
Amongst this sample, perhaps not surprisingly, HRT was not an option for most women only 6% have taken HRT, half of which have found it beneficial and half with reservations. 61% claim they will resist taking it in the future compared to just 16% who are open to considering HRT in the future. The remainder feel they don’t know anything about it.
So what else is on offer? Complementary medicine can be extremely beneficial for women suffering from both physical and emotional symptoms and acupuncture in particular is an excellent therapy not only for the common symptoms of night sweats and hot flushes but also itchy skin, disturbed sleep and emotional problems. The British Acupuncture Society has a fact sheet on Menopausal symptoms, which has more information.
Diet can also play an important role; most acupuncturists will also give lifestyle and dietary advice to complement treatment. One respondent mentioned
“Not enough is known about how to support peri and menopausal stages through dietary support and vitamin/minerals which I think could make a big difference”
Finally, a big thank you to everyone who took part in the survey.
If you would like to find out more about how acupuncture can help, please contact Sally on 07956 367003