Dr Cliona Murphy, FRCPI FRCSI MRCOG BSCCP
Chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Coombe women’s and Infants University Hospital
As women become older, changes in their body can impact their lives, whether that’s difficulty sleeping, becoming more emotional or mind fog. A recent bout of media attention on the changes women go through while ageing has been helpful in raising awareness.
For Dr Cliona Murphy, as Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital and Tallaght University Hospital, it is her role to support women as they go through changes in life, such as menopause, and she says ‘awareness’ is key.
“When women get to their 40s, they’re often not expecting their periods to change. While that can be the first sign of the menopause, there are many more side effects that can come with it. Symptoms can include hot flushes, night sweats, an uncontrollable rush of blood to the face; all of which can all be distressing.
“Many might have disturbed sleep and feel exhausted in the morning, which can play havoc with work situations and can be distressing. There are also more physical causes such as palpitations, feeling that their bones are aching, lacking energy, experiencing joint pains, or experiencing vaginal dryness, making sex painful. What women need to realise is that these symptoms are absolutely normal and that they don’t need to struggle on.”
Menopause isn’t a disease
Dr Murphy is spreading the message that menopause isn’t a disease, it is just a way of life. She says, “For many years, focus has been on maternity and gynaecological problems that need surgery. But, while these are important, we still need recognition about the second phases of our life.
“In England and Ireland, women are living to 78-80, so our quality of life has to be prioritised. To do this, I‘d like to make links with midwifery colleagues when it comes to planning for the future. I would also like to see links with other colleagues for the ‘whole life’ concept of women’s health and see how we can integrate things more.”
Preparing women for menopause
This approach would become heavily focused on preventative medicine, giving advice and actively preparing women for the peri-menopause and menopause. From addressing fears and concerns such as prolapse, to information on physiotherapy and strengthening the pelvic floor as well as offering support with diet and exercise. Dr Murphy adds, “These are all non-surgical interventions that can optimise people’s wellbeing before they even need surgery.”
With our lifestyles constantly changing, cases of osteoporosis are on the rise and some factors – such as taking certain contraception or HRT – can inflate this risks. The benefits of the modern age, however, mean that GPs can now prescribe much more tailored options to suit our personal circumstances and family history.
Protect against brittle bones
“We can protect against osteoporosis with a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, combined with exercise – particularly weight-bearing – to help protect our bones. If the diet is low in those vitamins, supplements can help.”
When women reach middle age, they should attend their screening checks, such as mammograms and smear tests, and if possible, have an overall health check.
Dr Murphy adds, “I use my time with patients to go through family history, check they’ve attended their screenings and ask them about diet. These touch points can add value to any visit. But the most important thing is to make women see that if there are any changes along their journey into the second phase, whether that’s menopause or other symptoms, they should be able to go and ask their GP for help.”
For further advice about menopause, the British Menopause Society has a range of helpful information online.