Power from Shared Experiences Around Menopause Symptoms
March 23, 2022
A few weeks ago, I spent a morning with a group of amazing women talking about our health care experiences around menopause symptoms.
It was a slightly chilly, drizzly morning as I arrived at the inner-city location for our meeting that day.
But as I entered the seminar room already full of participants for the talk, I felt the positive energy in the room warm me up.
Ladies of different ages and names, shapes and sizes. In common, we all share an African heritage. So that was where our discussion started.
As our morning talk progressed, we realised that we also shared similar voices, concerns and visions for how much black women’s experience of quality health care can improve.
We came together eager to celebrate International Women’s Day this year. In particular, we were keen to address how we could #breakthebias over menopause care for black women.
Menopause affects women differently. It is that period of time when a woman no longer has regular menstrual periods. Indeed, menopause is universally accepted as beginning 12 months after a woman’s final menstrual period (FMP).
Many of us will reach menopause at similar ages, while for others it may be later or earlier.
Another common aspect of menopause is called perimenopause. This term we use to refer to all the time leading up to the time you reach menopause. Perimenopause may have symptoms that you will also experience in menopause – the difference is really just the timing.
Sadly, since many women do get some rather distressing symptoms with perimenopause and menopause, it is important that we get menopause care right.
Now, don’t get me wrong – menopause care is essential for any woman.
But along the line, women of non-white origin often have a sorry tale of unmet expectations to one degree or another.
For some time now, scientists have demonstrated the difference in experiences between women of different racial backgrounds.
Black women, for instance, may experience perimenopause symptoms and menopause earlier.
But unfortunately, this may lead to misdiagnosis or inadequate treatment.
But in addition to this, black women may have to face stereotypes that affect the quality of health care we receive.
Research in the UK has demonstrated the inequality in women of African or Afro-Caribbean origin’s health care provision.
Stories such as the experience of poor analgesia offered during labour because black women can handle pain better are not as uncommon as you might think.
Furthermore, almost four in five black women believe the NHS protects them less than their white peers.
So you see, there are grounds to have a discussion exclusively for black women to address how we can ensure better outcomes for ourselves when it comes to health care.
Here are some of the areas our conversations touched:
We looked at menopause and agreed that women and their doctors often get caught unawares by the numerous symptoms associated with passing this stage of life.
However, we also marvelled at the variety of experiences in the room: from ladies having almost no symptoms to others with a plethora of physical or mental issues related to perimenopause.
In the graphic below are a few symptoms of menopause and perimenopause, but they are not exhaustible!
We looked at attitudes to non-hormone menopause treatments versus the use of HRT(Hormone Replacement Therapy).
Yes, we mentioned the C-word and explored our genuine fears of accepting HRT due to cancer risk.
It was good to learn of statistics from the Womens Health Concern demonstrating the difference in breast cancer happening when we compare different lifestyle risks like the pill, being overweight and HRT.
The studies show that in a general population, 23 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, while in a population of 1000 women on HRT this number reduces to 19; but it increases to 27 out of 1000 women using the pill!
The place of diet and natural or non-drug therapies in health care is increasingly trendy and for good reasons.
Medication side effects (from HRT or alternatives) can be severe – or if you are already taking a drug to treat another problem, they could interact with hormonal treatments.
Many women prefer avoiding extra hormones/chemicals in their bodies and will rather get the benefits of natural therapy that is safe and effective.
We learned about the role of sleep, food, exercise, and supplements in maintaining good health as we transition to menopause.
Early investment in a good, health diet with regular exercise has significant payoffs for a better menopause experience.
Discussions around mental and sexual health relating to menopause were also quite revealing:
And finally, we looked at the social network and reminded ourselves of how important to our mental health it is to communicate, share and be part of a community that cares.
In all, the energy in the room generated by compassion and understanding means that I left this meeting of like minds on a buzz.
I came away hopeful that our shared voices will make a difference – that we should expect and demand health care that is responsive, caring and efficient every time.
If you’d like to be part of a community where your concerns are respected and heard – click here to join and start sharing your experience.
Watch the #BreaktheBias Around Menopause video organised by ADF (African Descendants Forum) on 13th March 2022.
Editing by AskAwayHealth Team
All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
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