More support and education are needed for perimenopausal women who are experiencing menstrual changes, researchers say.
A new study has shown that as periods may become unpredictable, heavier and more painful and the menopause gets closer, women say they need both practical and emotional support in both their working and personal lives.
The findings are published in Post Reproductive Health, and the researchers highlight the need for specialised women’s health training for healthcare professionals to help women experiencing these changes.
Researchers at University College London (UCL) and the University of Edinburgh interviewed 31 perimenopausal women aged between 40 and 55 who lived in the UK. The interviews highlighted the changes women experience in their menstrual cycle as they approach the menopause.
Most women reported experiencing irregular and unpredictable periods, even if their periods had been regular throughout their lives. Many stated that their premenstrual symptoms, including mood swings, breast tenderness and headaches, were worse at this time, and their periods had become heavier.
The heavy blood flow and unpredictability meant that the women in the study were often caught off guard or found themselves in embarrassing situations. In addition, many of the women reported feeling exhausted in a way they had never experienced before as a result of a drop in iron levels. The changes that perimenopause brought to the menstrual cycle left many women feeling unable to commit to plans due to the unpredictability of their periods, and some women felt unable to cope either emotionally or physically outside of their own homes.
Premenstrual symptoms were also described as being more intense and lasting much longer than before. This ranged from new feelings of anxiety to uncontrollable mood swings and generally more prolonged periods of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Senior author Professor Joyce Harper from UCL, said: ‘We need to be sure that perimenopausal women understand how their periods might change at this time in their lives and that we need to be supporting perimenopausal women as their periods become unpredictable, heavy, or have worse premenstrual symptoms. All of these factors can affect the working life and mental well-being of women going through the perimenopause.’
The women who participated in the study felt their workplace could help support them at this time by having greater flexibility to work at home and educating colleagues and managers about what they were experiencing and how it could impact their mental and physical well-being.
Emotional support was deemed essential by women at this time, particularly from friends and family, but many women felt they would benefit from a support group where people were experiencing the same symptoms or had previously experienced this change.
Professor Harper and her colleagues at UCL have recently announced plans for the UK’s first menopause education and support programme. The new programme will aim to support women approaching and experiencing the menopause to understand the changes occurring to their bodies and help support them through education.
‘Most negative menstrual experiences stem from a lack of education about what is and isn’t normal and when to seek medical care. Early, inclusive, and comprehensive menstrual education is vital for everyone, alongside specialised women’s health training for healthcare professionals,’ Professor Harper explained.
She added: ‘Empowering women with knowledge aids self-advocacy and informed treatment choices. Accessible support is essential for each woman’s perimenopause journey.’