It’s World Menopause Day on 18th October, and this year’s theme is early menopause, commonly known as Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI).
While the average age that a woman goes through the menopause in the UK is 51, some women go through it much earlier.
Yes, that’s right, menopause doesn’t just happen to ‘women of a certain age,’ many more women than you would imagine go through the menopause before the age of 40. In fact, current figures say this happens to 1 in 100 women, and managers, one or more of these women could be working for you.
This is why the ‘women of a certain age’ expression really isn’t helpful if you want to raise awareness and educate your workforce about menopause in the workplace. If you don’t keep issues like early menopause and POI in mind, you risk missing a lot of women out.
Menopause happens to 100% of women and while it’s not an illness to be treated, it can be a very difficult thing to go through, physically and emotionally. To go through it at a much younger age than expected can make it even more of a wrench.
Employers have a duty of care to look after the wellbeing of employees, but also to make sure that they are well supported, understood, and don’t feel like they need to leave their employment because of menopause.
What is POI?
When you have POI, it means your ovaries no longer produce normal amounts of oestrogen and they might not produce eggs. This can mean that your periods either become irregular or stop altogether, and you can experience menopause symptoms.
Why POI is different to the menopause
With POI, the ovaries might not stop functioning completely as they do in menopause, so it’s still possible to have periods, or even get pregnant in some cases.
What causes POI?
Sometimes, POI occurs without an obvious cause, and some women aren’t even aware that it has happened until they go to the doctor about their irregular periods.
Otherwise, POI can happen as a result of:
Surgical removal of the ovaries
Radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatment for cancer
Having an autoimmune condition
Having a family history of POI
What are the symptoms of POI?
The most common thing that women notice when POI occurs is that their periods stop or become irregular. Many women experience symptoms of menopause, including:
Tiredness and poor sleep
Lack of libido
Hair and skin changes
Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and irritability
These aren’t even all of the symptoms that women experience, and feeling like this day in, day out can be very distressing and can significantly affect quality of life.
Not only that, there are longer-term ramifications of going through menopause earlier than expected, including;
An increased risk of osteoporosis
An increased risk of developing heart disease
What if I think I have POI, when should I see a doctor?
If you’ve missed your period for three months or more, or your cycle has become irregular, and you are experiencing some of the symptoms that I’ve mentioned above, you should see your doctor. The most common way of diagnosing POI is through a blood test that measures your hormone levels.
My advice to you for when you go to see your doctor, is get clued up about POI and tell them that you think this is what might be happening to you. Keep a diary of your symptoms over the course of a few months, and ask for a blood test if you aren’t offered one. Remember, if you leave your GP surgery feeling fobbed off or that your questions haven’t been answered, you can always get a second opinion.
I’ve been diagnosed with POI, how can I manage symptoms?
Making lifestyle adjustments can help, like stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol, and eating well, as well as staying active. Strength training can be a big help when it comes to keeping your bones strong and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
Herbal remedies and complementary therapies can work for some women, though personally when managing my menopause symptoms, HRT has been like the holy grail. It made me feel ‘normal’ at a time when I felt anything but, though it’s not for everyone, so discuss your options with your doctor so you can make an informed choice.
In terms of the emotional impact of POI, it can be very tough, especially if your fertility is affected, so if you experience feelings of anxiety and depression, please do seek help and advice, whether it’s from your doctor, or a specialist charity or service.
The Daisy Network is an amazing charity that provides information and support to women with POI.
Start the conversation, but change the vocabulary!
Organisations need to get clued up on menopause so their female employees don’t have to suffer in silence. They also can’t afford to lose their best talent, especially in the current climate.
This means starting the conversation in the workplace and removing phrases like ‘women of a certain age’ from your vocabulary.
Imagine being a working woman and trying to perform well in your job while experiencing the symptoms I’ve spoken about in this blog. Imagine feeling like you might be going mad or fearing that you’re going to be fired for underperforming, just because you’re experiencing menopause.
This needs to stop. The solution is easy, and it’s all about education.
What are you doing for World Menopause Day?
Let me help you make your organisation more menopause-friendly.
Raising awareness about the menopause among women, men, and employers is all about education and making it comfortable and acceptable for people to speak about it. Menopause is not a condition to be treated and cured, it’s a normal stage of life that every woman goes through. Helping people to realise this is my mission.
My training events are aimed at educating HR professionals, managers, and working women about the menopause in a fun, engaging, and informative way.
If you’d like to find out more, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org