Guest Author - Tammy Elizabeth Southin
No matter where women live, menopause is all too often a difficult subject to discuss. Women all over the world share many of the same concerns about menopause. Yet so many women feel isolated during this time. This time we take a look at how women in Ireland view menopause and the prevailing attitudes towards menopause in Irish society. What you may find most amazing is that no matter where you go, the more things appear to change the more things are very familiar.
The Women’s Health Council recently undertook research in Ireland by asking women about their attitudes towards menopause. Ireland is a rather modern country in the Western world sense but like many other countries some old views of menopause remain embedded in society. What this means is that women still must deal with the social stigmas of menopause and aging. At the same time, women have to find ways to cope with the various changes taking place in their bodies.
The Women’s Health Council, an Irish organization, wanted to learn why many women in Ireland find it difficult to talk to their families, their doctors, and even other women about menopause. Here is a sample of some of the interesting findings.
When does menopause begin?
Like many women all over the world, Irish women found it difficult to actually know when their menopause began. Unlike some life events that can be easily marked on a calendar, menopause is a long process that takes place from anywhere between five to fifteen years. Save for women who entered menopause due to a hysterectomy, there is no real concrete way to know exactly when menopause started. Irish women indicated that only by looking back could they start to put together a pattern of physical and psychological symptoms that fit the description of menopause.
Knowing what are menopause symptoms
One very confusing aspect about menopause is that many symptoms can occur during menopause; symptoms that are not directly related to menopause itself.
Some things are easy to identity, such as hot flashes, vulvar or feminine genital dryness and night sweats, which are almost always caused by hormonal changes. But more often than not, Irish women found that symptoms including weight gain, heart palpitations, increased stress levels, memory loss, and fatigue are often caused by conditions other than menopause. The problem is that menopause occurs at the same time women’s bodies are dealing with the aging process.
Overall, Irish women reported feeling that there were so many changes going on during their forties and fifties, including menopause, that it could be difficult to understand where menopause began and left off against other health issues.
Menopause is not a single event
Since menopause cannot be measured with a calendar, it is easy to doubt yourself regarding menopause symptoms. Many Irish women said that they felt a great deal of uncertainty when describing and acknowledging their menopause symptoms. Part of this is because of the negativity associated with aging in most Western societies including Ireland. Another reason is that often patients and doctors measure menopause very differently which leads to confusion and frustration on both sides.
Medical definition of menopause
Traditionally, healthcare providers have relied on a series of measurable changes in the body to indicate whether a woman was menopausal. Usually, age played a factor – 51 years old is a common benchmark. Doctors were trained to learn that absence of menstrual periods as well as measured hormone levels where the only real proof that menopause was present. Irish women, like women elsewhere, trusted their doctors when it came to menopause and doubted themselves as women in their own bodies.
Menopause and isolation
Irish women have very strong feelings of isolation during menopause. The uncertainty of how their views about menopause measure up to the views of their healthcare providers left women reluctant to discuss menopause at all.
This means an inability to learn about menopause and ask questions before and during the transitional years. Most women suffer in silence since all this uncertainty leads many to question their sanity or to have strong doubts regarding menopausal symptoms. Or as the WHC put it, “The invisibility of the menopause as a topic of discussion in Ireland left many women feeling isolated, uncertain, frustrated.”
Results from research studies such as this teach us a couple of very important things. There is a slow but steadily growing movement for both doctors and women to re-examine the old views of what it means to be going through menopause, when it starts, and how long it lasts.
For doctors, it is an excellent chance to embrace new ways of helping women deal with menopause; for women it is a chance to start shedding the doubts about their menopausal experiences. Both sides can break through the psychological and social barriers surrounding menopause. Women in Ireland no longer have to settle for a miserable menopause nor do their sisters around the globe.
For more great reading on this study of Irish women and menopause, please visit www.whc.ie/Menopause.
Menopause, Your Doctor, and You