By: 10 November 2022
53% of UK women don’t expect the perimenopause until it happens to them

A leading testing expert says that an astonishing 53% of UK women are not expecting the perimenopause until they have symptoms.

Although they are experiencing a natural process, many fear they are ill. This pause before the menopause must be taken far more seriously.

While most UK women know to expect the menopause around the age of 51 (the average age in the UK), many experience upsetting symptoms such as mood changes, headaches and night sweats up to ten years before their full menopause.

The leading testing expert, Dr Quinton Fivelman PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘Most women think menopause is something that happens in their 50s. When women start to notice symptoms far earlier, while still experiencing their periods, many worry they may be suffering from a serious illness – from hormonal imbalance to cancer. The problem is that the perimenopause is simply not discussed enough, either by GPs or among friends and family.

‘Many women in their early 40s experiencing symptoms such as late-night anxiety attacks, headaches and mood changes do not associate these symptoms with the first stages of the menopause. That’s because they continue to have periods, though perhaps less regularly, and some even experience increased PMS-like symptoms.

‘Our research reveals around half of all women are unaware of the perimenopause and, more significantly, how early its symptoms may start. This chimes with research by the cosmetics company Avon, which found half of the women aged 45-65 it surveyed were unaware of the perimenopause until they developed symptoms.

‘Most shockingly, while 46% of women worldwide did not expect perimenopause when it started, this figure was significantly higher among UK women, with more than half (53%) being surprised when they first experienced symptoms.

‘The perimenopause is a natural process when your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years. Symptoms are caused by the changing levels of hormones in the body. When oestrogen is higher, you may have symptoms similar to PMS. When oestrogen is low, you may have hot flushes or night sweats. For those women who were not expecting these symptoms and are unaware of the cause, this creates heightened anxiety. Identifying perimenopause can be particularly confusing as these hormone changes may be mixed with normal cycles.

‘So, what are the symptoms of the perimenopause? While some women will notice very few, others may experience a significant number.

‘The following are the most frequent symptoms:

  • Bladder problems
  • Changes in sexual desire
  • Changing cholesterol levels
  • Headaches
  • Heavy sweating
  • Hot flushes (also known as hot flashes)
  • Irregular periods
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Mood changes
  • Night sweats
  • PMS-like symptoms
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble with sleep
  • Vaginal dryness

‘The fact that many women may not consult their GP about concerning symptoms is also worrying. This tallies with recent research that shows only 16% of women are happy to go to their doctor for menopause advice. In fact, one in three women don’t go to their GP with severe perimenopause and menopause symptoms, despite 77% finding at least one symptom of menopause “very difficult”.

‘Importantly, experiencing perimenopause does not mean you can no longer have children. As ovulation becomes irregular, your ability to conceive decreases. However, if you’re having periods, pregnancy is still possible.

‘Sometimes it’s hard to tell for certain if you are experiencing perimenopause. Your symptoms, medical history, age and a physical exam may help with the diagnosis. You may also have blood tests to measure your hormone levels.

‘There are a variety of relevant blood tests available. For example, London Medical Laboratory’s Fertility Hormones Profile test will check levels of important hormones related to fertility, menopause, period problems and other related issues.

‘Once a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months, they are considered to have reached their menopause. London Medical Laboratory’s Menopause Hormones Profile test checks for the important hormones needed to give information about menopause. It can identify the hormonal changes expected at the onset of menopause and help with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) monitoring, for those women receiving treatment.

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