Eight out of ten women experience early symptoms of the menopause, research has found.
The menopause occurs when a woman has her last period. For decades, menopause research has centred on this point, which happens in the average British woman at the age of 52, and on the years that followed.
As a result, women who still have monthly periods but experience other symptoms of the change can find it difficult to get help.
The study found pre-menopausal women in their 40s and early 50s experience a wide range of symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, pain and exhaustion.
For more than one in four the symptoms are often severe but researchers found many of those are being ignored.
This is despite the fact that providing women in the early stages of the menopause with the necessary treatment is vital in reducing their risk of developing chronic illness.
Lifestyle changes and therapy could prevent conditions related to the menopause such as heart disease developing later in life.
Lead author of the research, Dr Sioban Harlow, of the Centre for Midlife Science at Michigan University, said: ‘We were surprised to find a quarter of women in this relatively healthy cohort reported a broad range of often severe symptoms prior to the onset of the menopausal transition.’
‘Importantly, we observed some women’s symptoms get worse while others improve as they transition through menopause, so this is a critical life phase for intervention.’
The phase is known as ‘pre-menopause’ when women are still having regular periods but oestrogen and progesterone levels have started to fall. The study published in Women’s Midlife Health found one in four experienced problems.
The authors used a mathematical model to group 3,289 women, aged 45-52 years, going through the different stages of menopause into one of six symptom classes.
In pre-menopause, 10 per cent of were classified in the highest symptom class – tending to report a high intensity of most symptoms of the menopause. They were followed by those with moderately intense symptoms such as hot flushes, who numbered 16 percent.
This combined 26 per cent were described as ‘highly symptomatic’ by researchers, and most in need of help. Fifty-four per cent of women felt milder symptoms, while just 20 per cent of women experienced no symptoms at all.
Dr Harlow said: ‘Increased attention to the promotion of physical and mental health in early midlife – in the early to mid-forties – is needed, as women’s health needs and concerns extend far beyond menopausal hot flushes.
‘The way in which some symptoms cluster together may suggest underlying mechanisms, such as inflammation, that put women at risk of disability and chronic disease.
‘It is thus important the health care community pays attention to the health needs of the one-quarter of women who are already highly symptomatic prior to the menopausal transition.’
© Daily Mail