MENOPAUSE is a stage in life all women will go through.

Women who are heading towards their late 40s are certainly more conscious of what has traditionally been referred to as ‘The Change’ - two words once almost whispered behind a cupped hand.

Thankfully, times have changed and the medical term ‘menopause’ is more widely known.

Inspired by the BBC’s recent awareness week on the menopause, I was keen to find out about women’s experiences of it - after all, everyone’s body is different.

What we do know is that the menopause is what happens when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally.

According to NHS website, periods usually start to become less frequent over a few months or years before they stop altogether. Sometimes they can stop suddenly.

  • The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51. However, around one in 100 women experience the menopause before 40 years of age. This is known as premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency.
  • Most women will experience menopausal symptoms. Some of these can be quite severe and have a significant impact on your everyday activities. These include: hot flushes; night sweats; vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex; difficulty sleeping; low mood or anxiety; reduced sex drive (libido); problems with memory and concentration.
  • Menopausal symptoms can begin months or even years before your periods stop and last around four years after your last period, although some women experience them for much longer.

“For me it was sweats - I used to think I was going to pass out because it just drains you. It is like someone has thrown a bucket of water over you,” explains Carole Cresswell, a retired civil servant from Eldwick.

The sweats could come on any time during the day. Carole also suffered with moods which were out of character for her.

“I never had a bad mood and I would get really angry about something. My husband would say: ‘What is the matter with you?’ and I’d burst into tears,” she recalls. “I was upset and angry and had absolutely no idea why I was feeling that way.”

Carole decided to try natural remedies for her menopausal symptoms such as Oil of Evening Primrose, but for her they weren’t very effective, prompting her to go to her GP.

They talked about HRT (Hormone replacement therapy - a treatment used to relieve symptoms of the menopause) which replaces hormones that are at a lower level as you approach the menopause. Carole understood the potential risks, but for her the decision to take the medication was down to quality of life.

“It has been brilliant, I absolutely swear by it. They told me all the risks but I just thought I would rather have a quality of life,” she says.

Now 64, Carole isn’t sure whether she is now over the menopause but she is coping with it and is hoping her experience will raise awareness of a subject most women find too delicate to discuss.

“I knew about ‘the change’ - I was expecting it coming up but I didn’t know what it would be like. Some people sail through it and there are some people who are worse than me,” she says.

“I think raising awareness is really good because it is something we don’t talk about because it is a ‘woman’s’ thing’, and it’s kind of your problem.”

Bradford businesswoman Terry King wasn’t sure it was the menopause as she started going through it at the age of 38. She went to the doctor and had a blood test, but her periods had stopped and she was suffering with night sweats and felt irritable - common menopausal symptoms.

The 66-year-old, who was awarded the OBE for her 20-year career as a top project manager in the Department for Work and Pensions and now runs Chapter 3 Enterprise - a community interest company she set up with her partners to support the needs and aspirations of older people - was offered HRT, which she took for 10 years.

“I have had this oestrogen in my system since I was 13 and suddenly not got any - it’s like a withdrawal,” says Terry, referring to the decline in oestrogen hormone levels that happens in the menopause.

She recalls speaking to her mum about it and discovered her mum had also started with the menopause in her late 30s.

For many women the menopause is welcomed as it brings an end to the monotony of those monthly periods.

“I have to say, apart from the symptoms I think it is the best thing that ever happened, not having any periods,” says Terry.

Now she hopes sharing her experience will help other women and also help to raise awareness about this once silent subject.

Terry says she believes it would be helpful for people to know about the symptoms such as hot flushes and also feeling irritable and for people to be mindful of what women are going through.

“You start your periods and then you end them and it is a whole different period of your life,” says Terry.

“But it is incredibly liberating - the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Mother-of-five, Ruth Weston, who runs Bradford-based company Aquabirths, didn’t use HRT but sought help from a medical herbalist instead.

“She gave me remedies to stabilise some of my emotional symptoms when I had a difficult time. At the very very end when my periods were chaotic to say the least she gave a number of remedies to sort things out,” says Ruth.

“The other thing I did was do the 'pause in menopause' - I took time out - especially time on my own just to be and allow my self to be whatever I needed to be. Coming out the other side I feel strong and healthy again and resilient and look out for what to do next.

"I now feel like I have been through a rite of passage like pregnancy and birth, motherhood etc - the storm has passed and the world looks even more beautiful than before and I feel deeply grounded and at ease with myself and the world,” adds Ruth.

Bradford GP Dr Anne Connolly, believes compared to generations ago women now have more options when it comes to treatments they can take to help with menopausal symptoms and they are more open about it, sharing experiences with friends.

She says HRT can help to control the symptoms and also protect women against potential osteo and cardio-vascular issues in the longer term.

Dr Connelly, who works at Bevan Healthcare and is chairman of the Primary Care Women’s Health Forum, CCG Board lead for maternity, children, young people and women and Women’s Health Champion for the Royal College of GPs, raises the issue of women who are struggling with their symptoms in the workplace, such as the embarrassment they feel when suffering from a hot flush in a meeting and the sleep deprivation which forces some women to give up work.

“For some women they get a few symptoms and it will be over and done with very quickly, and for other women it takes years and some women have really severe symptoms,” says Dr Connelly.

Rock My Menopause is an online resource - also available on Facebook - developed by the Primary Care Women’s Health Forum.

Dr Connelly says it’s about empowering women and enabling them to access options for their treatment.