Menopause in the Workplace

by Pat Duckworth

Typical symptoms

There are a number of factors that affect the nature of the menopausal symptoms women experience.

  • Genetics: one indication of possible experience is what happened to close female relatives during their menopause. However, individuals only share 50 per cent of their DNA with their mother, so their experiences may not be the same.
  • Diet: the quantity and quality of nutrition will influence the nature of the menopause. Being overweight, for example, can aggravate the experience of hot flushes.
  • Lifestyle: there are a number of lifestyle factors that have been shown to affect menopausal symptoms, including exercise, smoking and drinking alcohol. More controversially, studies in the UK and Australia have shown that women with higher education levels and social class were less likely to experience vasomotor (for example, hot flashes/flushes and night sweats) symptoms than other women.

Menopause is not an illness and it is incorrect to attribute to it symptoms that actually relate to getting older. The incidence, frequency and intensity of symptoms will depend on the individual: some women will pass through this phase of their lives with minimal effects, but other women (and men) will experience frequent and intense symptoms that will disrupt their working lives.

Hot flushes

The most common and noticeable symptom of menopause (perimenopause) is hot flushes (also known as hot flashes). These are experienced by more than 85 per cent of menopausal women, although their frequency and intensity can vary considerably from woman to woman. The discomfort experienced can be intense and the high visibility of the symptom can be very embarrassing.

During a hot flush, the blood vessels dilate, increasing the flow of blood to the skin, most noticeably to the face, neck and chest, but also the back. A rise in temperature is accompanied by sensations of heat, sometimes overwhelming, followed by sweating and cooling down. Some women also experience an increased heart rate, dizziness, faintness and nausea. A hot flush generally lasts between three and five minutes

Not every woman who has hot flushes also has night sweats, but if they have hot flushes at night they may wake up hot and drenched in sweat. Night sweats may occur several times a night and can result in poor and interrupted sleep. It is important to note that night sweats can be related to non-menopausal issues, such as stress, and individuals should consult their doctor if they are unsure of the cause.

Other symptoms

Other physical symptoms can include

  • Poor or interrupted sleep
  • Weight change
  • Migraine
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Heart pounding
  • Irregular periods
  • Heavier/lighter periods
  • Breast tenderness
  • Abdominal bloating.

Emotional symptoms can include

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Forgetfulness
  • Stress/anxiety.

Men in this stage of life can find themselves suffering from mood swings, fatigue, depression and hot flushes. Some men lose their confidence during andropause, which can affect their performance at work and disrupt their careers.