Middle aged women experiencing health problems tend to “blame the menopause” if the symptoms are similar, scientists have said.
It is apparent that health conditions which cause mood disorders, hot flushes, night sweats and heavy and irregular bleeding are often passed off as the menopause, academics have found.
Consultant Gynaecologist, Dr Karen Morton, said: “Of course, if a woman is aged over 45 and has tell-tale symptoms that her oestrogen levels are declining, such as these characteristic symptoms, it’s probably perimenopause or menopause, but it’s not always so straightforward.”
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Typically, women going through the menopause do not need to be diagnosed, however tests can be carried out to measure follicle-stimulating hormone and oestrogen levels, with lower measurements indicating that the menopause has begun.
Pharmacist Sid Dajani said: “There is a risk in assuming the menopause is to blame for every illness that affects women in mid-life. For example, heavy bleeding during periods may be a sign of uterine fibroids.”
“In some cases, periods stopping could actually be pregnancy. You should always ask the question: Could I be pregnant?”
Dr Morton added: “Irregular bleeding, which women so often think is a normal part of the menopause, may be a sign of cancers. We always look out for red flags that suggest there may be a malignancy.”
High blood pressure
Prior analysis has shown that cases of hypertension amongst middle-aged women is often mistaken for the menopause, with the symptoms including fatigue, heart palpitations, chest pain and headaches.
Professor Angela Maas said: “The way coronary arteries age is different among men and women, and this starts around the menopause.”
Heart palpitations is a common symptom of the menopause; however, it can also be a sign of electrical faults in the heart, a condition that affects people as they get older.
“People think it is just the menopause when actually it could be the heart developing a funny rhythm which is nothing to do with hormones,” said Dr Morton.
Thyroid-related problems can trigger hot flushes and a racing heart, causing women to blame these symptoms on the menopause. Thyroid complications can be diagnosed through a blood test.
According to the researchers, depression is often mistaken as low moods caused by the menopause, with many women feeling low during the menopause.
Dr Morton said “’The causes of mood swings in menopausal women are complex but oestrogen has a role in many brain functions, so falling levels during the perimenopause may affect psychological wellbeing in some women.”
Dr Heather Currie, gynaecologist and former chair of the British Menopause Society, said: “Unfortunately some are misdiagnosed with depression and given antidepressants when they really need hormone therapy.
“Fortunately, there is a growing awareness among doctors that low mood and anxiety can be hormonally based.”