18 Mar 2024

Are we overmedicalising menopause?

From Nights, 9:30 pm on 18 March 2024

Having been a taboo topic for decades, there has been a shift in western nations like the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand to open up discussions around menopause.

But experts say that has also come with a downside: that natural symptoms and experiences can become overmedicalised, with an undue focus on treating and curing menopause.

Professor Martha Hickey from the University of Melbourne and Royal Women's Hospital is the co-author of a series just published in the medical journal The Lancet exploring this issue.

She joins RNZ Nights' Emile Donovan to discuss the issue.

Martha looks at the camera. She is wearing an orange turtleneck sweater. She is standing inside an office.

Martha Hickey is a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Melbourne and the co-director of the Gynaecology Research Centre at the Royal Women's Hospital. Photo: Supplied

Menopause happens to every person born with functioning ovaries and signifies the end of reproductive life.

While it usually happens around the 51-years-old mark, 10 percent of people have premature menopause

Hickey said there was no 'one size fits all' for symptoms.

She said it was not that unexpected that menopause was not discussed widely as in many societies the ageing of women was seen in negative light.

"Going through menopause and getting older - can come together in gendered ageism."

She said overmedicalisation of menopause was not the same as overtreatment.

"What we are saying is: it's not a disease. And as a society, we shouldn't be making it harder for women."

She said women needed to be supported more as they go through this normal transition, but there was a lack of high quality and consistent information, so it was  no surprise that people were confused about what was going on.

"They need to know what to expect... and know where to go for help if needed.

"Women really need high quality info from a trusted source so they are less vulnerable to commercial exploitation that can happen."

Listen to the full interview with Professor Martha Hickey here: