Women currently make up a huge proportion of the workforce; 47% of the workforce in the UK are women, of which 26% are currently over the age of 50. Women dominate (!) even more so in the NHS with 70% of the NHS workforce being female, of whom 26% are over the age of 50. This means that in the NHS there are currently 309,400 women over the age of 50.
With the average age of the menopause being 51 in the UK and the perimenopause often starting in the mid-40s, many of these women, of which I am one, are now experiencing the hormonal changes of the perimenopause and of the menopause. Consequently, demands of work can become even more challenging. Many women report great difficulties coping with what was previously manageable due to sleep disturbance and hence tiredness and, in some cases, exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, poor memory, low mood, lack of confidence, anxiety, joint aches, not to mention the embarrassment of the well- known hot flushes and sweats. Throw into this the demands from teenage children and elderly relatives and one might wonder how women cope at this stage at all!
The sad truth is that some really struggle and need help, yet often try to get through in the knowledge that for many, these symptoms will pass. The problem is that there is no way of predicting how long the “early” symptoms of estrogen deficiency of the menopause will last. Many women report sad tales of significant symptoms which they openly admit have affected their ability to do their job necessitating changes in their role, time off work and even early retirement. Not all have received appropriate support and there appears to be a lack of awareness of the impact that menopausal symptoms can have—“ isn’t it just about a few flushes?”!!
So what can we do? As a doctor working in the field of menopause, I would wish that all women could receive appropriate advice and information about the effects of estogen deficiency, what simple changes women can make to reduce symptoms and improve long term health and what specific treatments are available. Sadly this vision is a long way off but meanwhile, if symptoms are affecting you and your work, do seek help; ask your GP or Practice Nurse, make an appointment with Occupational Health, contact Sister Katrina Martin on our helpline, (01387241121, Thursdays 9am to 12noon), but above all, do not battle on alone!
Heather Currie is an Associate Specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology in NHS Dumfries and Galloway