Menopause a mystery to many

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 12:00am

HK women don't know enough about the change of life

WITH AN AVERAGE life expectancy of 84.6 years and the onset of perimenopause at 50, Hong Kong women spend a third of their life in the post-menopause phase, yet many women know little about menopause.

A study conducted by the Obstetrical and Gynaecology Society of Hong Kong last September showed that 65 per cent of 516 women aged 45 to 65 interviewed knew very little about menopause and 16 per cent did not even know what it was. Only 32 per cent knew that menopause symptoms were caused by a decrease in female hormones.

The survey also showed that women were keeping their menopausal woes to themselves. A whopping 77 per cent said they would not consider seeking medical advice and only 15 per cent said they would share their menopausal problems with their husbands.

Menopause is the permanent end of menstruation and a woman's reproductive years. It is usually confirmed when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. Oestrogen levels fall permanently to low levels and the ovaries stop producing eggs.

Women experience menopause in different ways. There are changes in both menstrual flow and frequency plus hot flushes followed by cold chills. Some women experience sleep disturbances.

Women in menopause also face the risks of osteoporosis, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and age-related macular degeneration, a condition in which the cells of the macula lutea in the centre of the retina degenerate, resulting in blurred vision and, ultimately, blindness.

Menopausal women may also suffer psychological symptoms in varying degrees. During their reproductive years, most women become accustomed to their own hormonal rhythm. During menopause, this rhythm changes, and the hormonal fluctuations can contribute to mood swings.

The unexpected timing of menopause may coincide with other stresses in life. Sleep deprivation and long work hours may lead to fatigue and irritability.

Therese Lu, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, said women nowadays suffered more menopausal symptoms because they led more westernised and stressful lifestyles.

'Hot flushes were very rare in the past,' Dr Lu said.

'It's much more common now. Women in perimenopause might lose control of their temper sometimes and they feel guilty afterwards. They need understanding, support and encouragement from their husbands and children.'

Dr Lu said women should accept menopause as normal.

'It is just a natural sequence of life.'

coping with the symptoms

Bluebird Ho Kei-wing, senior talent resources officer, ATV

I'm a very positive and happy person. I'd never thought I'd have menopausal symptoms. When I was 44, I started to have hot flushes. I learnt this was a symptom of menopause. I am very health-conscious and avoid western medicine. I tried these more natural phytoestrogen supplements and I felt better after two weeks. Menopause is a phase of life every woman has to face. I think it is a good experience.

Julie Vandenbroucke, mother of supermodel Rosemary

Some years ago, I suffered from some menopausal symptoms. I thought I was sick. My daughter knew I was not sleeping well and she recommended I seek medical help.

Susan Tse Suet-sum, Cantonese opera singer

I had relatively mild symptoms. I guess it was because I had lots of exercise and kung fu training when I was young. And I got emotional support from my friends and my mentor.