Katie Taylor, photo, 50, from London, was forced to interrupt her career at the age of 43 because her doctor had not correctly identified her menopausal symptoms over the course of four years
People often say that there has never been a better time to be a modern, working woman. The pay gap between men and women is half what it was 20 years ago, maternity leave packages are more generous than ever and more women are gradually added to senior management.
Of course there is still room for improvement, but in terms of career it is probably fair to say that things are better than ever. But not for all women. For the estimated 4.3 million working women over 50, slap in the middle of the menopause, it is arguably more difficult than ever.
They are not only plagued by constant fatigue, painful joints, mood swings and memory problems, but, as recent studies reveal, employers are poorly equipped to deal with this. As a doctor and founder of the very first GP-led menopause clinic in the United Kingdom in Stratford-upon-Avon, I have seen the situation that has destroyed the career of hard-working women, from bankers to hairdressers.
My colleague Katie Taylor, a 50-year-old former high-flying marketing manager in the London charity sector, was only one – at 43 years of age forced to leave her dreams to work her way into a director role because of her symptoms.
"I would be in important meetings, look at budgets and it seemed like it was all in a different language," she tells me.
"I would be in fear, in a bad mood, and completely exhausted. I couldn't tell anyone because my managers were all men. & # 39;
Katie suffered in silence for four years, consistently wrongly diagnosed by her doctor, before stopping career hopes completely.
According to a recent report, 14 million workdays a year are lost due to the devastating effects of the menopause.
Mrs. Taylor said: & # 39; I would be attending important meetings, looking at budgets, and it seemed like it was all in a different language & # 39;
In my own study conducted this year on 1,100 women in transition, 94 percent said the symptoms made working life more difficult and half were forced to take time off, dramatically reducing career prospects.
Now politicians are finally starting to pay attention. In May, Conservative MP Rachel Maclean raised the issue in the Commons and called on employers to pursue a specific transition policy.
But it can take tens of years before concrete action is taken. So don't wait.
I have spent the last two decades helping women in transition to reach their professional highs. Here I describe 20 of the most important tips and tricks I have learned that will keep you at the top of your career for years to come – from sick leave, office reconciliation to medical treatments, this is the only source that you need to keep flowering during and after your menopause.
Don't ignore classic signs … or other symptoms
First things first – recognize your symptoms for what they are.
I have lost count of the women who still bleed regularly and mistakenly think that their painful symptoms have nothing to do with menopause.
This is because doctors rarely diagnose menopause until a woman has not had a period of one year.
But women can suffer from a collection of symptoms and still have a monthly blood loss up to ten years before diagnosis.
The gradual depletion of sex hormones – estrogen, progesterone and testosterone – during the perimenopause (just before the menopause) and the menopause cause a large number of known symptoms, including hot flashes, foggy head, joint pain and bloating.
But other symptoms are less known, so if you are suffering from one of the following symptoms from the age of 45, this may be the start of the menopause.
A strange taste in your mouth?
Hormone changes can cause a hot feeling that affects your tongue, lips, gums or the inside of your cheek. According to the Oral Health Foundation, the exact cause is unknown, but it is more common in menopausal and post-menopausal women.
Tingling, itchy skin
Estrogen helps build collagen, a binding agent that gives your skin strength and structure, and is crucial in maintaining blood flow to the top layer of your skin and keeping it hydrated and elastic. The skin becomes thinner as estrogen levels fall and some women experience tingling, stinging or a creeping sensation called formation.
Palpitations, a feeling that the heart beats quickly, can sometimes be accompanied by hot flashes. Palpitations are usually harmless, but if they occur frequently or accompany symptoms such as shortness of breath, consult your doctor as this may be a sign of something more serious.
As estrogen levels fall, androgens (hormones such as testosterone) become more prominent and can cause excess hair around the lip and chin.
Changed sense of smell
Estrogen can affect the pathways in the brain that regulate the sense of smell, and some women find that they have an increased sense of smell during menopause.
You will then receive the correct treatment
A place on the career ladder can still be yours with the right treatment. But only half of the women seek help from a health professional for their symptoms. It is tragic, since hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is recommended by every international health institution because it is extremely effective.
The 50-year-old mother of four said HRT was a game changer: & # 39; Within four weeks I felt like a new woman, as if the clock had been turned back 20 years & # 39;
For Katie, HRT was an immediate "game-changer". "Within four weeks I felt like a new woman, as if the clock had been turned back 20 years," says the mother of four.
"I immediately started a new company – a website called The Latte Lounge that supports midlife women – that has acquired 16,000 members in just three years. I can take on any challenge that is thrown at me and have the feeling that I have more brain power than in my years & # 39; 20. & # 39;
Many women tell me that HRT – usually a combination of estrogen and progesterone – gives them back their lives.
Hot flashes and night sweats should disappear within a few weeks, and other symptoms such as vaginal dryness and urinary tract symptoms within a few months.
Recently a number of alarming headlines have linked the drugs to health problems such as heart disease and breast cancer.
But this is far from the whole truth. And you don't have to put pills at your desk every day – try a gel or patch instead.
So don't be afraid of drug treatment, because for most women it is nothing less than life-changing.
Know your rights and tell your boss
There is no specific legislation governing how men who go through the menopause should be treated at work, but under the Equality Act 2010, employers can risk claims for sex, disability and age discrimination if they do not properly support their female employees.
You can persuade your boss to make the changes you need by …
- Check whether your workplace has a transition policy and, if not, this suggests. You will be surprised how many companies have one.
West Midlands Police, for example, introduced a flexible work policy for women in transition and some NHS trusts offer counselors to help with menopause-related anxiety and stress.
If there is no policy, the Faculty of Medicine website has a useful guide.
- Examples of how your menopause affects your work. Do conference calls in suffocating spaces lead to hot flashes or are you struggling to meet deadlines due to poor concentration? Managers can request evidence before allowing a change in your work environment.
- Ask for sick leave if you need it. If you earn at least £ 118 a week, you are entitled to legal sickness insurance. That is at least £ 94.25 a week for a maximum of 28 weeks. After a week you need a doctor's note. If you are self-employed and need free time, try to claim an allowance for employment and support or Universal Credit. Visit the government website, gov.uk.
- If you believe that you are being treated unfairly, contact your HR department or contact the Citizens Advice Bureau at opizensadvice.org.uk for free, impartial advice.
Ask for a desk fan … and mornings
If you have worked continuously for 26 weeks for the same employer, you have the right to request flexible working to cope with your symptoms. It may be that your joint pain is particularly unbearable in the morning, or that you suffer from hot flashes after lunch.
Try to adjust the working day to the times that you feel the strongest, or negotiate a later start time or work from home if you are struggling with concentration.
So why not ask for a simple desk fan or get closer to the window? Or consider exchanging & # 39; noon coffee for herbal teas and canteen curry & # 39; s that can cause hot flashes
According to a recent study by the Trades Union Congress, half of the women in the transition felt that the office environment worsened their symptoms.
So why not ask for a simple desk fan or get closer to the window? Or consider exchanging & # 39; noon coffee for herbal teas and canteen curry & # 39; s that can cause hot flashes.
If you are wearing a uniform, ask if they are available in cotton – ideal for wicking away sweat.
Lifesavers … alarms and post-it notes
It is a scenario known to most of my patients; Your boss asks a question to which the answer is precisely clear.
But for some reason you draw a space.
Brain fog is often associated with impoverished estrogen – the hormone plays an important role in learning and memory.
Recent studies by researchers at the University of Georgetown in Washington have shown that a decrease in estrogen can also cause an increase in anxiety.
But while it may seem like it affects our performance, it actually makes little difference to our performance.
A six-year study involving nearly 2,000 professional women discovered that, despite reported brain fog, anxiety and depression, they performed as well on cognitive tests as their pre-menopausal self.
The research also showed that fatigue is temporary. The brain easily adapted to the decrease in estrogen, which reduced the confusion about four years after the onset of symptoms.
So it is not necessary to harm your self-confidence, especially when a few neat tricks can help you cope.
First buy a smartphone and use the reminder application to set alarms and to inform you about important meetings or deadlines.
Then write important points that you do not want to forget on sticky notes and place them next to your screen. Repeat them for yourself every morning.
Finally, schedule meetings or the most challenging tasks at the point of the day that you are the sharpest.
Walk through nature … for the sake of your eyes
Many women spend every waking moment in the office, hoping that this will compensate for lost time due to concentration problems.
Don't be tempted. It won't do your career any good.
Studies have shown that just 15 minutes away from the desk, or doing a relaxation exercise, can increase your concentration and reduce stress.
Staring at a computer screen also worsens the symptoms – women in transition are sensitive to dry eyes, because estrogen is vital to keep the front part of the eye, the cornea, moist and elastic.
The Health and Safety Executive recommends short, frequent breaks of five to ten minutes per hour, instead of longer breaks every few hours.
Better yet, take your break outside. According to research, daily breaks in nature can stimulate mood and creativity, but also reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Fight long-term health risks
Sitting at a desk all day and dealing with the stress of working life is not ideal to reduce the overall risk of disease.
A sedentary lifestyle makes it much more likely that you develop bone or muscle stiffness, as well as obesity-related diseases.
This is especially important for women in transition because of their already increased risk of osteoporosis and possibly fatal heart disease.
That's because estrogen helps keep blood vessels healthy, keeps cholesterol under control, and protects bones from weakening.
Women lose ten percent of their total bone mass in the first five years of the menopause. But there are things you can do to prevent this.
Exercise regularly with weight-bearing exercises such as brisk walking, dancing or lifting light weights to strengthen muscles.
Eat lots of calcium – found in dairy products and leafy green vegetables – and make sure you get enough vitamin D by exposing your skin to the sun during the day.
Calcium builds bone and vitamin D helps the body absorb it.
Sitting at a desk all day and dealing with the stress of working life is not ideal to reduce the overall risk of disease. A sedentary lifestyle makes it much more likely that you develop bone or muscle stiffness, as well as obesity-related diseases
Do not fall into the trap of comfort food. A balanced diet full of whole-grain foods and fruits and vegetables will reduce bloating and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Then there is sleep – a lack of it is also associated with heart disease and mental disorders. Approximately two-thirds of women in transition have sleep problems because decreasing progesterone means that sleep patterns are deregulated and hot nocturnal blushes make it difficult to fall asleep again.
Sticking to normal bed times, banning telephones from the bedroom and keeping them in a cool 18C can all help.
Katie says she now sleeps and works better than ever.
"Four years ago I just wanted to roll up in a ball. My resume reflected the type of lively, confident woman I was, but no one in the office ever met her.
"I really wanted to work at the top and really want to make a difference in the charity sector, but at that time I just didn't think it was possible. My body wouldn't allow it.
"Now I am more than satisfied with my performance and I have found personal satisfaction in the work that I do. I do not intend to stop soon. & # 39;
- Haynes Menopause Manual, by Dr. Louise Newson, is available at haynes.com (Haynes Publishing, £ 12.99).
Don't panic … the benefits of HRT far outweigh the risks
Last week a new study on the safety of hormone replacement therapy alerted millions of British women.
The research, published in The Lancet, said that the risk for women in the most common form – combined daily estrogen and progestin – of developing breast cancer was twice as high as previously thought.
According to the researchers, one in 50 women who use pills for five years will develop breast cancer.
The NHS says there is a small risk of breast cancer when taking combined HRT, but the risk returns to normal five years after you stop taking
But these conclusions may not be entirely correct.
They are based on previous observational studies with 100,000 women – instead of a randomized standard study according to the gold standard that could determine the exact cause and effect.
There are many different reasons for an increased risk of breast cancer, including obesity, not exercising, and drinking alcohol.
The NHS says there is a small risk of breast cancer when taking combined HRT, but the risk returns to normal five years after you stop taking it. Some women also worry about an increased risk of uterine cancer.
It has been found that only take estrogen, without progestin (the synthetic form of the hormone progesterone).
But most women take the combination of hormones and topical treatments such as gels and plasters carry much lower, almost negligible, risk.
In my opinion, the benefits of HRT outweigh these risks. Numerous, robust studies show that the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and dementia is all reduced in women who use it.
And don't forget that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence watchdog – as well as several other medical authorities – still recommend HRT for debilitating menopausal symptoms.
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