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11 January 2021

“Women’s problems” – tackling the menopause taboo

“I have a cold.” “I have a headache.” “I have a bad stomach.”

You will have heard your colleagues say this sort of thing at work.

But when it comes to menstrual cramps or menopausal hot flushes, the mood changes. These are not seen as “acceptable” topics for public discussion. There is still a real taboo around women’s fertility.

In the Netherlands alone, up to million-and-a-half women are going through their menopause right now. A whopping 85% of them report complaints – ranging from minor ailments to serious and sometimes even debilitating problems.

But this has broader implications – aside from the obvious ones on women’s quality of life. Dutch research shows that one-third of absenteeism among women between the ages of 45 and 60 is directly related to the menopause.

Women in their Fifties have a long working life ahead of them. Yet the menopause is rarely considered in companies' health and vitality policies.

And care for women in menopausal transition is far from optimal. Even healthcare professionals sometimes dismiss complaints such as hot flushes, mood swings, or weight gain simply as “normal.” In other cases, women even get the completely wrong tick in their medical records: burn-out, depression, or some other “psychological” affliction.

Meanwhile, companies with zero medical expertise fill the gap. But food supplements, phytoestrogen smoothies, and other money-spinning gimmicks are no substitute for proper care.

Proper care starts with us acknowledging and recognising the complaints. Not only care professionals but especially the women themselves. It is truly shocking how many women don’t understand their bodies, especially when it comes to fertility.

Sleep problems, for instance, are logically explained by the biology of the female body. Solutions – often very simple ones – are readily available. In many cases, medically prescribed lifestyle interventions such as dietary changes, graded exercise therapy –including weight training – and stress reduction combined with menopausal hormone therapy can provide scientifically sound, effective care.

But before we can talk about solutions, it would help if everyone knew that “the change” is just part of life and should not be a taboo. In the end, even cute girls turn fifty.

Author: Maaike de Vries, PhD, health scientist and Manon Kerkhof, PhD, gynaecologist.