The Menopause

What it’s like to experience early menopause

While the average age of menopause for women in the UK is around 51, early menopause does happen, and it’s important to talk about it.

Early menopause is defined as when your periods stop before the age of 45. It can happen naturally or as a result of certain medical treatments. Regardless of the cause, you may experience a number of physical and psychological symptoms associated with menopause, such as (but not limited to) hot flushes and night sweats, brain fog, vaginal dryness, hair loss, sleep struggles and more.

Here, we take a closer look at early menopause and why it sometimes happens. We also share one inspirational woman’s story of hitting menopause at the age of 37.

What causes early menopause?

According to the NHS, there are several reasons why early menopause may occur. These include:

  • The ovaries stop working – if the ovaries stop making normal levels of hormones, in particular estrogen, early menopause can occur. This is known as premature ovarian failure, or primary ovarian insufficiency. The cause is often unknown, but it may be triggered by chromosome abnormalities, an autoimmune disease or certain infections.
  • Cancer treatments – radiotherapy and chemotherapy can cause premature ovarian failure, which may either be temporary or permanent.
  • Surgical removal of the ovaries – if the ovaries are removed during surgery, for example during a hysterectomy, this can cause early menopause.

“I’d be sat in meetings with perspiration dripping down my face”

We chat to Dawn Coker, 59 from Liverpool, who shares her experience of going through menopause at the age of 37.

Dawn was just 35 years old when crippling pain from endometriosis led her to having a hysterectomy. Yet, two years later, Dawn was still in a lot of pain. She had her ovaries removed, which resulted in surgical menopause at the age of 37.

Now 59, Dawn, managing director of tax relief specialist Access2Funding, explains:  “The first symptom was the hot flushes, which began within a month of surgery.

“These were the kind that left you with wet sheets at night and wet clothes by day. As a result, I was having trouble sleeping. It wasn’t long before brain fog kicked in.”

Upon returning to work, Dawn was still recovering and experiencing “debilitating” symptoms. She felt her colleagues simply didn’t understand what she was going through.

“I’d be sat in meetings with perspiration dripping down my face, forgetting the names of people who I’d worked with for years,” she says. “I’d enter a meeting room, only to then have a mind blank as to why I was there.

“Working in the banking industry at the time, which was male dominated, I felt quite alone in what I was experiencing. The few women that there were just didn’t pay an interest. They were young (like me) and didn’t know what the menopause was.”

Feeling unsupported

As Dawn explains, a lack of support from her workplace made managing her menopausal symptoms all the more difficult.

“It was stressful as well as embarrassing having to manage my symptoms whilst working at full capacity, repeatedly explaining to everyone that I was going through early menopause,” she says. “I became almost withdrawn and just wasn’t myself.

“I was never frightened of having a conversation about menopause at work. What bothered me was the complete lack of support, how awkward and difficult I was made to feel, and how I had no-one to talk to.”

Dawn adds: “Feeling like I was internally combusting, I’d ask if I could sit by the window, but it often fell on deaf ears. I’d often say, ‘I’m having a moment’ in a light-hearted way, but in reality, it was no joke.”

Dawn says that she developed some strategies to help manage her symptoms while at work. These included carrying a flask filled with ice to relieve hot flushes and drawing pictures of the table during meetings so she could refer back to names and job titles.

After three months of struggling at home and at work, Dawn was prescribed HRT. She also started eating a healthier diet, and her symptoms were eased.

Making a difference

A few years later, Dawn left her job in banking and moved into the private sector. It was here that Dawn decided to use her own personal experience of menopause to help others in the workplace. Working with the HR department, she helped roll out extra support to staff, especially around female health issues.

In 2021, Dawn was promoted to chief executive officer. This saw her develop a menopause policy to encourage open conversations in the workplace.

The policy considers menopause symptoms as an ongoing health issue. It covers flexible working, workplace adjustments and management training.

“From my experience, it’s important to get men involved in the conversation, too,” says Dawn. “Education and training are key to breaking the stigma attached to menopause and transforming workplace cultures.

“Men can use a menopause policy to better understand what may be affecting their colleagues, as well as their wives, partners, mothers, or friends outside of work.”

Other businesses have now implemented Dawn’s policy and she’s received many messages of support on social media.

“I’ll never forget the lady that reached out to me on LinkedIn and thanked me for raising awareness of early menopause brought about by surgery,” she says. “Her daughter was in an awful car accident. She had to undergo a full hysterectomy because of her injuries, forcing her into menopause at the age of 22.

“I will continue to support women in business and to champion the retention of female talent, with a menopause policy being just one of many ways of achieving this.

“I like to think I’m proof that there is life on the other side of menopause. No woman, whatever their age, should have to suffer in silence.”

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