A Generation of Women Suffered in Silence Due to ‘Unnecessary Fear’

An ‘entire generation of women’ has lost full quality of life and well-being over the past two decades due to misinformation and the spread of ‘unnecessary fear’ about menopause treatments, a said an expert in the field.

Dr. Deirdre Lundy, specialist and trainer in care for women in menopause, explains that the public perception around hormonal treatments for menopause has caused countless women to “suffer in silence”.

“Some women find it so hard that they quit their jobs, they get depressed, they leave relationships, it can be life changing,” Dr Lundy told the Irish Times.

She said women who ended up using hormone supplements “often felt so guilty that they were doing a terrible thing to themselves by taking HRT”.

However, a recent shift in public perception means that women who would previously have been prescribed antidepressants when presenting to the GP with menopausal symptoms are beginning to access much more effective medication as well as support and advice from health professionals.

In December, the government announced the establishment of the state’s first dedicated menopause clinic at the National Maternity Hospital with three other specialist clinics due to open in Limerick, Galway and Cork in 2022.

While the majority of menopause-related care will continue to be provided by general practitioners or nurse practitioners, these multidisciplinary clinics will provide another level of support for women with complex menopausal symptoms. They will also provide advice on menopause to GPs in the community.

Dr Lundy believes the funding needed to open and run these clinics was sparked by a week-long discussion held on RTÉ’s Liveline program last May.

“A lady called Sallyanne Brady, a life coach who had struggled with many menopausal symptoms, wrote Joe Duffy to tell him how she had lost five years of her life to menopause. She wrote about this huge tidal wave of middle-aged women struggling to continue working, caring for family, children, aging parents, and when they went to the doctor for help with hormonal changes, they were told they were very stressed and given antidepressants.

Dr Lundy describes this week of radio programming as a turning point in the Irish conversation around menopause. “It all really happened overnight. A few weeks after that show I got a phone call from someone in Holles Street saying the Department of Health had given us some money to start a clinic of menopause.

In September, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announced that a number of menopause clinics would open in Ireland.

Confusion and fear

According to Dr. Lundy, much of the confusion and fear surrounding the treatment of menopause can be traced back to the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative study in the United States, which reported a link between breast cancer or cardiovascular disease and HRT treatment.

“This study has a lot to answer, it is estimated that an entire generation of women have lost complete quality of life and well-being due to the misinterpretation of this 2002 study and the unnecessary fear created by the use of low-dose hormonal supplements to deal with the harsh transition.”

It is now clear that the benefits of HRT far outweigh the risks, says Dr Lundy. Women who drink alcohol or are overweight are much more likely to develop breast cancer than those taking HRT, she added.

In 2015, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence reported that HRT did not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease when started in women under 60 and that HRT containing estrogen alone was associated with no or very little change in breast cancer risk.

He acknowledged that “combined HRT can increase breast cancer” but the risk decreases again after stopping treatment.

The UK study also advised doctors to stop prescribing antidepressants to women going through menopause. “They said the woman just needed hormonal stability and these products are very safe,” Dr. Lundy said.

“Then things started to improve. You might see the mood around menopause becoming more positive after that and the narrative around using hormones at this stage of your life becoming more UK-friendly. And now it’s echoed here in Ireland.

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