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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 26-Mar-15 12:33:38

Guest post: "Thank you, Angelina Jolie" - why we need to talk about the menopause

Elaine Miller on why we should be grateful to Angelina Jolie for talking honestly about early menopause

Elaine Miller

Gusset Grippers

Posted on: Thu 26-Mar-15 12:33:38

(39 comments )

Lead photo

'There are only 29 menopause clinics in the UK - where are we supposed to get help and advice?'

When Angelina Jolie Pitt was pregnant with her twins she said something that made me dislike her intensely:

"It's great for the sex life. It just makes you a lot more creative. So you have fun..."

For most of us, pregnant sex is more comedy than fun, and being creative only means coming up with ways to conceal your leaking breasts and dangling piles. To be fair to Angelina, she's probably more enthusiastic about pregnant-porking than I ever was because she gets to do it with Brad Pitt.

I've forgiven her after reading her article in the New York Times this week, though. She wrote eloquently about her decision to have her ovaries removed, thereby pushing her into menopause, in order to manage her inherited cancer risk.

Seeing a well written, well informed, high profile article about the menopause makes me happy. Probably even happier than a romp with Brad Pitt might. Because we don't talk about menopause in the public arena, do we?

Information about the menarche is delivered in schools. Though there's a massive range in the quality of information, and much of what is delivered is sponsored by brands and far from perfect, at least it's out there. (If you're looking for help with explaining periods to young women, by the way, then have a look at Period Positive.) You're usually not a school pupil when you get to the other end of the fertility spectrum, though - so, where are you supposed to get the facts about menopause?

Magazines, radio, articles and online forums are where most women land up, which is fine, except there is a lot of misinformation out there. There are plenty of very earnest articles called things like "dealing with symptoms of the menopause". But "symptoms" is problematic – menopause is not an illness, and talking about it in such terms only adds to the sense that it is something "bad" and "problematic", rather than an inevitable part of life for half the population.

The word "symptoms" is problematic – menopause is not an illness - but if you are struggling with changes in your mood, energy, sleep, pelvic floor, skin, weight, muscles, sex life, bones, heart, bladder, memory, hair, gut and vagina then it sure can feel like one.


Saying that, if you are struggling with changes in your mood, energy, sleep, pelvic floor, skin, weight, muscles, sex life, bones, heart, bladder, memory, hair, gut and vagina then it sure can feel like an illness. Some women sail through with barely a blip, others can suffer - and I mean suffer in the Biblical sense - for years. For women who have a sudden menopause, either because of surgery like Jolie, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, the symptoms can be particularly brutal. This is why it's so important that we don't suffer in silence, shrouded in embarrassment.

And it's not easy, when even Madonna is subjected to menopause-based jokes in the workplace (in her case, The Brits): "I'm so excited about Madonna. I snuck into her dressing room back stage earlier and there's a lot of drugs back there. But don't worry it's all HRT stuff", tweeted the ever-hilarious Jimmy Carr. Because women in their fifties, who have made an informed choice to take HRT to protect their health, are hilarious. I suspect Madonna didn't fall off that stage, but, instead, exuberantly threw herself off to flaunt her non-brittle-bones. Well, if you've got it...

Joking aside, many women keep quiet about symptoms that interfere with their job for fear that it might affect their prospects or professionalism. But with 63% of women aged 50-64 in the workplace, the menopause is an occupational health issue which we cannot afford to ignore.

Of course, help is available via a GP or menopause clinic. "What's a menopause clinic?" I hear you ask. It's unusual, that's what. There are only 29 in the UK, and inevitably, these clinics are serving just a fraction of the women who would benefit from knowledgeable, specialist help. The cynic in me suspects that if it were men who experienced the menopause there'd be at least 30 clinics.

The NHS's #changethechange campaign – the aim of which is to "put the menopause on your agenda" – is a good start, but we should all follow Angelina's advice, too: "seek advice, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you. Knowledge is power." So, here are some links for your knowledge. Bring on the power.

All the facts you need to know can be found on Health Talk. Well, not where you left the car keys, but everything else. And Menopause UK is another great evidence-based site.

Evidently Cochrane is the public face of the Cochrane Review, which is where NICE guidelines are born, and has some brilliant blogs on menopause.

And, if you feel like sharing your experiences, but the New York Times won't publish them (the rotters), then have a look at Menopause UK's 'voice for women' page, or, of course, share your experiences on the thread below.

By Elaine Miller

Twitter: @GussieGrips

26Point2Miles Thu 26-Mar-15 14:17:41

I'm shocked tbh

Do people really not talk about it? It's never been a taboo or unrecognised topic amongst my colleagues, friends or family. Never found a problem with accessing help or advise myself either. I'm just starting with it, the hot flushes etc, I'm finding everyone supportive

SwedeByName Thu 26-Mar-15 17:15:38

I think older women do talk to other older women about it, but there's a lot of ignorance and misogyny surrounding the issue amongst men and even younger women. I remember being about 30 when a colleague joked, 'Hot flush, dear?' In front of several other colleagues, when my cheeks went red (after a lunchtime glass of wine). I was mortified. But this comment was deemed funny.

takemeuptheeiffeltower Thu 26-Mar-15 17:24:39

Angelina Jolie and Madonna both take HRT.
Good for them. If morehigh profile people opened up about taking it, maybe it wouldn't get such a bad rep.
When I reach menopause I am definitely taking HRT.
It protects against so many things such as heart attacks, bone problems, as well as helping women with their mental health as well.
Don't believe the scare stories people!
(as you can tell, I have been doing my research, what with that age fast approaching)

YonicScrewdriver Thu 26-Mar-15 17:26:04

Thanks Gussie.

NorahDentressangle Thu 26-Mar-15 18:13:22

*Angelina Jolie and Madonna both take HRT.
Good for them. If morehigh profile people opened up about taking it, maybe it wouldn't get such a bad rep.
When I reach menopause I am definitely taking HRT*

Hmm, it gets bad rep because there is a risk - see recent info about ovarian cancer.

If you are taking HRT you are not letting nature take its course. Not that that is a bad thing. But it would be nice if we could 'embrace' aging and not fight it.

Anyhow, I would like some more publicity about how male hormones change with age. It is described as a solely female issue which I can't believe is the case. Men get fat, go bald, go grey, it's not passing them by, we just don't hear about it.

Northlower Thu 26-Mar-15 18:18:28

I'm surprised that Ms Jolie can take HRT. Oophorectomy for reasons of breast cancer control is normally undertaken because the cancer is of a type which feeds off oestrogen. HRT is an oestrogen replacement drug so is not safe to be taken by women with or at risk of hormone-caused breast cancer.

And, when that's the case, there's little else out there which actually works and doesn't have hideous side-effects.

Ledkr Thu 26-Mar-15 18:30:26

I have had both procedures that AJ has had for the same reasons.
I was tho 46 when I had my ovaries removed but had the Breast cancer and Double mastectomy at 26.
I was surprised to be able to take hrt with my history but my consultant explained the risks as opposed to the other health risks for early/surgical menopause which include stroke and heart disease not to mention the other side effects such as zero sex drive and crippling anxiety and I made an informed choice to take it.
I feel isolated when it comes to talking about. It because none of my close friends have got there yet.
If I speak to older women I feel older than my years and as I have a toddler the issues are slightly different (up at 5 after a night of hot sweats anyone?)

takemeuptheeiffeltower Thu 26-Mar-15 18:33:07

If you are taking HRT you are not letting nature take its course.

Death, just like Menopause, is also natural, but we try to stave that off for as long as possible, don't we?
Just because something is a natural progression doesn't mean we have to put up with it and suffer things we don't have to.

Historically, women didn't live for long after menopause. These days we are living a LOT longer.
Which means that it's possible for a woman to spend the whole second half of her life having to live WITHOUT Female Hormones in her body.
That's harsh.

To put things in perspective, It's natural for men to suffer impotence as they get older. But do men settle for that? No way! They take Viagra. And Doctor's are happy to prescribe it for them as well.

Northlower Thu 26-Mar-15 18:42:13

"If I speak to older women I feel older than my years and as I have a toddler the issues are slightly different (up at 5 after a night of hot sweats anyone?)"

Yes, yes, yes.

I was in the totally opposite camp to you, Ledkr, being told that if I didn't have the oopherectomy there was a very good chance that the cancer would return and kill me but that I couldn't have HRT because that would kill me too.

MammaPo Thu 26-Mar-15 19:11:10

Thank you Elaine Miller. I agree, I so wish there was a class I could go to on this! At 42, I am fairly young to be going through the menopause, but my mother had her menopause at the same age, so it's not entirely unexpected. What to do about it is! My GP was completely useless, and offered no advice or guidance whatsoever. Acupuncture helps with some of the symptoms, and a good multivitamin also seems to help. But I like the sound of these menopause clinics. How do I find out more about them? Where are they??

weebarra Thu 26-Mar-15 20:20:42

Really interesting re HRT! I had breast cancer last year, had all the treatment. Had the oophrectomy in December, I'm BRCA 2+, so it made sense. Menopause is not fun at all, and I feel very ashamed of myself for laughing at my mum's hot flushes. I'd love to be able to take HRT, we shall see what my oncologist says!

Ledkr Thu 26-Mar-15 20:42:12

I think I'm "fortunate" that my cancer was so long ago that the risk is small. I've also had 3 babies since so obv high oestrogen leveks then and nothing cropped up.
I really was fairly lucky as far as meno symptoms go but I don't fancy a heart attack when I've got such young dependents.
You really are only putting back what nature has stopped producing.

Ledkr Thu 26-Mar-15 20:43:57

Mamma my clinic is in gloucester or Stroud. If you find one u can get gp to refer u. Don't have to attend only local hospitals.

BictoriaVeckham Thu 26-Mar-15 21:14:05

If you are taking HRT you are not letting nature take its course

I love to ask you if you take it when you go through the menopause hmm. I have premature menopause (late teen diagnosis) - I've coped with poor advice for 10 years until I finally go prescribed the right medication in the form of HRT. I feel a million times better. Don't knock HRT until you're in the thick of it.

L15rxo Thu 26-Mar-15 22:17:56

Im 42 been on hrt only 3 months due to hystorectomy @ 35. When do you start feeling better. Terrible moods. Husband cannot take anymore. Wants a divorce. What do i do?
Please help. Gp useless also. Is there one of these clinics in south wales.

CowboyJoeFromMexico Thu 26-Mar-15 22:33:46

I had a full hysterectomy at 40 due to ovarian cancer and I was told HRT was not an option. Starflower oil capsules and Cipralex have helped the most. I'd quite like my memory back though.

gussiegrips Thu 26-Mar-15 23:40:06

re those of you looking for clinics - here's a great blog post with links, and, advice: menopause uk article

gussiegrips Thu 26-Mar-15 23:44:30

L15xo DM me - I'll find someone nearby who can give you advice. Don't put up with it. x

NorahDentressangle Fri 27-Mar-15 07:13:44

If you are taking HRT you are not letting nature take its course
I followed that with 'not that that's a bad thing' Bictoria . I did take HRT which was great, you feel brighter and fitter, but you know what 6 years on, and no longer taking it and well over the hill at 61 (I stopped due to being diagnosed with breast cancer) I feel pretty good now.

Looking back I think some of the problems of the menopause is having to adapt to the fact your 'youth' is over. You are getting old, your body is ageing. I would recommend taking it but it's not that bad once you stop (I'm assuming a natural menopause, not one due to removal of ovaries).

This website is good.

TanteRose Fri 27-Mar-15 07:29:29

nice blog post, gussie smile

am 47 next birthday so meno is on the horizon (I'm deffo perimenopausal) - friends and I talk about it lots, one of us sailed through (she's 51), another is fighting the flushes...

anyway keep fighting the good fight

<does a couple of Kegels> grin

FrogGreen Fri 27-Mar-15 09:21:55

My DM had a dreadful time of it. She was very angry and irritable to the point that it was very detrimental to me as a teenager. Very. Eventually HRT helped, but it was after years of misery. I'd love to be able to avoid all that, and especially to avoid that kind of impact on my own DCs.

I'm 37, so it's a way off for me. Does anyone know about things I could be doing now, e.g. lifestyle choices, that might make life easier for future me?

FrogGreen Fri 27-Mar-15 09:24:12

Incidentally, poor mum, she only told me a decade later that all of that anger was probably caused by menopause. At the time I'd no idea. If only she had told me at the time, I would have understood and known what was happening to her. We definitely need to talk about menopause more!!

Shockers Fri 27-Mar-15 15:36:18

I think I'm about to hit it. I'm 48 with regular (very heavy) periods. However, I have a recently discovered prolapse, I struggle with my weight, despite doing some form of exercise 4/5 times a week and I am so irritable, my family are starting to hate being around me sad. My hair has thinned dramatically and my skin is grey and dull.

I have spent much of this afternoon crying because of aforementioned prolapse, and because I feel utterly joyless and unfulfilled today (tomorrow may be an entirely different story).

takemeuptheeiffeltower Fri 27-Mar-15 16:49:20

Frog green,
you can take all the supplements in the world and keep yourself as healthy as you like (which helps a little), but I'm afraid the only thing that stops the anger, tearfulness and hotflushes is by replacing the female hormones that your body has now lost.
My mother also suffered horrendous menopausal symptoms and said that HRT was a life saver!

As I said upthread, years ago, women only had to put up with about a decade of living without the benefits of female hormones. They would go through the menopause and then die about 10 years later!
I don't think nature designed us to live for decades and decades after the menopause.
But, because of better health, it is now possible for a woman to live another 50 years after menopause!
That's a hell of a long time (the whole second half of your life) for a woman to have to live without her hormones!
Is it fair to expect a woman to live a poor quality of life for 50 years of her life?
No.
This is why women should be offered HRT if they want it and they have no pre-excisting health problems.

To deny them this life changing drug is just plain nasty and cruel imo.

Also, did you know that a LOT of women can suffer meno symptoms until the day they die? That's a LONG time.
Not all women take 2-3 years to go through it.

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