“I suffer from severe hot flashes, as if it were self-combustion, attacking me at any time and in every place… Sometimes I feel tingling all over my body. The heat and blurred vision bother me in my daily life, whether in my work, which depends on writing, reading, and research, or in my home, where I am burdened by “Household tasks and care burdens. I became very nervous and more inclined to get emotional or quarrel.”
Thus, Rabab, a 49-year-old woman, told me about some of the symptoms she suffers from as she approaches menopause. Rabab is certainly not the only one, as the majority of women suffer from these symptoms that may begin many years before menstruation stops.
For some women, this stage may pass safely with a few mild symptoms, while others may suffer from severe symptoms, whether physical, psychological, or both, that have a significant impact on their daily lives.
Although there are many sources of awareness in the West, whether through official health agencies or charitable organizations, they remain insufficient. For example, research conducted by Professor Joyce Harper, Professor of Reproductive Sciences at University College London, indicated that 90 percent of women do not receive any education about menopausal problems during their education, and more than 60 percent of them do not begin to search for information about them until after They begin to have symptoms.
Perhaps for this reason, the first educational program of its kind in the country was recently announced in the United Kingdom, aiming to increase awareness of menopausal problems and support women who suffer from them.
The new program will be implemented in cooperation between University College London and the most prominent charities concerned with women’s health in the country, as stated on the British Menopause Society website.
What about Arab countries?
It seems that awareness and support initiatives are almost non-existent in the Arab world, whether at the official or civil levels.
After some trouble, I found a Facebook page for an Egyptian doctor, Dr. Ihab Ibrahim, a consultant in obstetrics and gynecology. The page publishes useful information about the symptoms that precede and accompany menopause and the health and psychological problems that may result from them.
The page also displays a series of episodes entitled “How do you deal with menopause?”, which are awareness-raising discussion sessions moderated by Dr. Ihab with the British Helen Morris, a trainer specializing in the field of psychological rehabilitation for women who suffer from menopause symptoms (Menopause Coach). During these episodes, questions sent by page followers are answered.
Regarding the reasons that made him undertake this initiative, Dr. Ihab says: “I encountered many women who faced very difficult problems due to lack of awareness, lack of support from family and employers, and poor understanding of the effects of menopause, not only in our Arab society, but in the West as well.” But to a lesser extent…Based on average life expectancy, women spend about a quarter of their lives in this period, so it is my duty as a specialist doctor to raise awareness of these symptoms, their severity and causes, to determine the required health interventions.”
“Found the answer on Google”
The list of symptoms that a woman in menopause or before menopause may suffer from is long, and includes irregular menstruation, hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, mood changes, weight gain, brain fog, itchy skin, decreased libido, digestive problems, breast infections, feeling dizzy, depression, tension, and changes in body odor. Even the tone of voice changes as well.
The advice given by specialists in the West usually aims to “alleviate” these symptoms, and usually includes eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Hormone replacement therapy is sometimes prescribed, and women are also advised to take some vitamins and other nutritional supplements.
Noura, who is forty-eight years old and has been suffering from many of the symptoms that precede menopause for about eight years, says that she did not know anything about this stage until after she started experiencing these symptoms.
“Since I reached the age of forty, I have been facing many health problems – from severe pain in various parts of my body, to migraines that affect my vision, to sudden bouts of sadness or tension…and every time I went to doctors in various specialties and had many tests done.” “The x-rays were to no avail. But I began to notice that these problems became more severe as my menstrual cycle approached, and then I discovered through my Google search that what I was suffering from was related to hormonal changes that precede menopause.”
Rabab also found the answer online.
She says: “I do not think that our doctors – or at least many of them, appreciate this kind of pain. Perhaps some people mock or consider women to be pampered. I learned about the symptoms of menopause from the Internet, short programs on TikTok, and from one of my friends who is a year and a half older than me.” “As well as references to this in some foreign series.”
Through my conversations with some specialist doctors in some Arab countries, and following media interviews of others, I noticed that the focus is on serious symptoms such as vaginal bleeding or urinary retention. A gynecologist told me that the problem is that women themselves tolerate other physical symptoms in silence, and do not seek medical help except when absolutely necessary due to a lack of awareness.
Psychological and mental symptoms are also often not treated. Dr. Ihab says that his experience studying and working in Canada is what made him interested in the impact of menopause on a woman’s psychological and mental health, “which many in our Arab societies consider a secondary matter.”
How can women be supported in the workplace?
Employers in Britain have begun to provide some support for women in menopause, before and after menopause, as they are making some modifications such as allowing greater flexibility in working hours, changing the uniform or adjusting the temperature of air conditioners to alleviate the severity of hot flashes, and allowing them to take breaks. Short breaks when necessary in a quiet place, or taking sick leave to see a doctor or leaving work early if their symptoms become more severe.
Amal, a forty-year-old working woman, the mother of a young child, and a women’s rights activist, says that calls demanding that the burden of caring for the family not fall on women alone do not translate into women’s reality, which she believes has not changed:
“What happens is that the female employee is punished by her employer for carrying out the duties and burdens of care, so what about if she demands consideration for physical or psychological pain, such as menstrual pain or menopause? Society does not take women’s suffering seriously. When there is suffering in which men and women share They are given attention and taken seriously, while the suffering of women alone is viewed as a mere claim or pampering that is ignored, silenced, or ridiculed.”
All the women I spoke to told me that they find it embarrassing to talk about menopausal problems, just as they do about menstrual problems, and they do not raise this issue except with their mothers, sisters, or friends, and that menopause is only discussed in the context of a lack of ability. Women to give birth.
Amal says: “Society, and by that I mean the media and drama, does not talk about what it calls menopause except from the perspective of a woman’s inability to get pregnant or that she is getting older. It has never happened that a dramatic work talked about the physical or psychological suffering that a woman goes through at this stage.” “I have not heard of any health media campaigns addressing the issue.”
Changes in women’s health may have played a role in establishing the concept that menopause is “the age of menopause,” as Dr. Ihab says:
“Unfortunately, there are still some legacies in our Arab societies that… [تنظر] This stage is considered a stage that represents the end of the ability to reproduce and the beginning of old age. Hormonal changes in a woman during this period, which lead to changes in her general health, and complaints related to her psychological, physical, sexual, and motor health may also cause this belief to become entrenched, and thus this is reflected in her self-image and self-confidence, so she refrains from being frank and asking for support.”
It is true that women lose their ability to reproduce with menopause, but that does not mean that they lose their ability to give in all areas of family and community life. It should also not mean that they suffer from physical and psychological problems in silence, without family and community support, and without seeking help.
Dr. Ihab says: “I advise every woman who has performed and is performing her role to the fullest extent that, just as she takes care of those around her, she needs to take care of herself first so that she can continue on the path.”
The names of the women who spoke about their experiences have been changed based on their wishes.