A survey has found more than half of Kiwi women have severe menopause symptoms, with 84 per cent impacted at work.
A doctor says it demonstrates the “stigma” around menopause and how many women are only “pretending” to be okay.
Dr Linda Dear, who conducted the survey, is calling for better menopause management training for health professionals.
The specialist GP, who operates a menopause clinic in Tauranga, surveyed 4288 women across New Zealand between October and March about their menopause experiences.
She said 74 per cent of the women had sought help from their GP, but had a “mixed bag” of results.
She said 40 per cent rated their GP’s support as the “least helpful” while 47 per cent said this was the “most helpful”.
“GPs came out as both the best health care professionals and the worst [for treating menopause],” Dear said.
Of the respondents to the self-selected survey, 58 per cent described their menopause or perimenopause systems as “severe” or “very severe” with 84 per cent stating menopause had negatively impacted their work.
In terms of mental health, 71 per cent of women said menopause had affected their self-confidence and half of the women surveyed said it had affected their sense of identity.
Dear said the results did not surprise her.
“I knew there was a lot of stigma,” Dear said.
“I knew there were a lot of women pretending that everything was okay. I knew there was a lot of misunderstanding of symptoms.”
Dear said she believed her report based on the results would surprise women and healthcare professionals.
“Menopause has been this blind spot for a long time. Probably because it’s not a disease process but it can be something that causes a lot of struggle and suffering.”
Dear said for women who have felt “neglected” the report may come as a relief.
“There’s almost a relief that it’s being spoken about. Women can stop pretending.”
Dear said the next step was to make sure women across the board were getting the support needed.
“It’s a bit of a lottery in terms of the knowledge and the attitude that you’re going to get from your doctor.”
Dear’s report recommended improved menopause education for healthcare professionals including post-graduate specialist training and funding for specialist menopause clinics.
She said she believed women’s health did not fit easily in the “15-minute” conveyor belt of modern health care, with time a barrier for patients and doctors.
“A lot of doctors could do better if they had longer. Women have a lot to get through.”
Dear said having longer appointments was difficult but specialist training could help to ease the pressure. Being able to specialise in women’s health as a GP could “make more doctors want to do the job”.
She said the margin of error for the survey varied by question from 1.1 to 1.5.
New Zealand Early Menopause Support group founder Nicole Evans said the overwhelming feedback frommembers was high dissatisfaction with their GP’s knowledge and ability to manage menopause.
“Sadly, we hear many reports of women in their early 30s with hot flushes, mood swings, and intermittent periods going to their GP only to be told it’s stress and it’ll sort itself out,” Evans said.
“This delays treatment which impacts daily quality of life and can also impact fertility and long-term health considerations if ignored for too long.”
Evans said she hoped the survey would result in more dedicated menopause clinics being established.
“Opening up the conversation is an important start to improving women’s experience at what can be a very turbulent time of life.”
Surgical Menopause NZ peer support group founder Emilie Joyal said she hoped the results from the survey would help paint “a more accurate portrait” of menopause and its implications, as well as leading to improved care for New Zealand women.
For Joyal, that could include more training for medical professionals, government-funded treatment options and research into women’s health in general.
“[The results] should also help to break the taboos surrounding menopause, whether it’s natural or induced.”
Joyal said the quality of care for women with menopause varied and outdated information and practices were “still present within the healthcare system”.
Joyal said surgical menopause — when both ovaries are removed or damaged — was a life-changing experience for most women and the lack of support was widely felt.
“Many women are not prepared sufficiently for the consequences of losing their ovaries and are often left to find solutions on their own. This can make accessing essential treatments more difficult and costly in addition to the existing severity of symptoms typical of surgical menopause.”
How to talk to your doctor about menopause
Rotorua-based Three Lakes Clinic GP Cate Mills said she saw at least one menopause patient every day.
“Support for GPs to learn about menopause management would be very useful,” Mills said.
“A lot of female GPs have already sought this information.”
Mills said training and resources needed to be easy to access and she recommended the Australasian Menopause Society website.
Mills said women with menopause symptoms should book consultations with their GPs specifically about these symptoms.
“Introduce the topic at the beginning of the consultation. Don’t go in with a host of other things and bring it up at the end,” Mills said.
“We’re really open to having those conversations.”
Mills also said she encouraged women to seek support from other women who were sharing the same experience.
“There are groups here in Rotorua they can get involved with, for example.”
Mills said a healthy diet, exercise, getting as much sleep as possible and fostering positive connections with other people also helped.
“[Menopause] is a normal physiological change. It is a process.”
Maryana Garcia is a regional reporter writing for the Rotorua Daily Post and the Bay of Plenty Times. She covers local issues, health and crime.