Blood, sweat and tears

Nursing support workers are in a great position to help women talk about the symptoms of the menopause without embarrassment, says RCN women’s health professional lead Carmel Bagness

Menopause. It’s time the word became part of our everyday dialogue. As health care professionals, women know and trust you; they’re likely to feel able to confide in you. 

The impact of the menopause on some women can be life-changing, while others will barely notice it happening.

Around eight in 10 women in the UK will experience some symptoms. Of these, 45% find their symptoms difficult to deal with, and some can have the symptoms for 20 or more years.

Getting the low-down on these symptoms and related issues will help you help others understand there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. This is a natural event that the majority of women experience. 

Being aware of the help that’s available can help you support women, including understanding what your colleagues may be going through, or help you seek support yourself. 

It’s important that we don’t shy away from this issue

Lindsay Cardwell, Chair of the RCN Nursing Support Workers Committee agrees. 

“The RCN is your professional body and union and so it’s important that we don’t shy away from this issue,” she says. “We have a number of resources on our website and individual support is available through RCN Direct.

"Societies who value older women find that there is less negative stigma around menopause. So is it time for us to start shaping our own society to start thinking this way?”

Challenge the myths

  • "Symptoms are just physical." There are many psychological symptoms such as low mood and energy, poor concentration and memory, irritability, anxiety and panic attacks.
  • "Contraception is not needed." Women should continue to use contraception for two years after their last period if under 50 and for one year after their last period over the age of 50.
  • "HRT causes cancer." There’s a slight increased risk of breast cancer with some forms of HRT.
  • "HRT is a last resort." HRT is the most effective treatment to relieve symptoms.
  • "Weight gain is inevitable during the menopause."  Metabolism and weight can be affected, however, there is no evidence to show menopause causes weight gain. Fat storage can shift from hips and thighs to the abdomen therefore changing body shape.
  • "If you start your periods early you will have an early menopause." This really isn’t the case.
  • "All women get terrible symptoms during the menopause." Most women have minor symptoms and some don’t have any symptoms apart from their periods stopping.
  • "It doesn’t take very long". Symptoms of the peri-menopause and menopause last on average for four years.
  • "Periods stop suddenly." It’s more likely that periods will become more irregular and space out before stopping all together. 

A personal view

Marina Bolton, Cross Government Menopause Network

I had a general idea of what to expect - hot flushes, irregular periods, and moodiness. But I didn’t realise was how disruptive, intense and severe some of these symptoms could be.

I wasn’t expecting bouts of dizziness and nausea requiring me to lie down for an hour at random times of the day.

I wasn’t expecting to feel completely out of control of my emotions to the point that antidepressants were the only logical answer.

I wasn’t expecting to bleed three weeks out of four, or to have such excruciating period pain that I couldn't stand straight or be without pain relief. 

There are women around all of us who are suffering in silence

Of course, there’s a myriad of other relatively minor things that go alongside the more severe symptoms like poor concentration, fatigue, weight gain and forgetting what I wanted to say mid-sentence.

Not every woman has an experience like I did but there are women around all of us who are suffering in silence.

The Cross Government Menopause Network has produced important guiding principles and a toolkit for use by women, line managers and colleagues help to bring the issue out into the open.

Further information

Download publications on menopause, including Menopause and Mental Health pocket cards (publication code: 007 813) from RCN publications.

Menopause and mental health pocket cards cover

 The RCN’s online clinical guide on menopause includes links to the Cross Government Menopause Network guiding principles. 

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