• Lauren Chiren

Making news: Why the HRT crisis is breaking the silence around the menopause

Updated: Oct 16

Sometimes a bad news story can create good news, although it might not be immediately apparent. Take the story of an HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) shortage in the UK.

Among other newspapers, The Guardian reported last month that an HRT shortage had left thousands of UK women without treatment. The story described how women – and doctors – have been hit by a “drugs supply crisis”.

The bad news was that the many women dependent on HRT, to help with the control of peri and menopause symptoms, might be required to go without their NHS prescription treatment, or swap to a new drug.

For 25 per cent of women transitioning through menopause – this covers both the peri-menopause and the menopause phase – symptoms can be debilitating without the right support and HRT has become a valuable treatment.

Old HRT news

Of course, HRT as a news story is nothing new. The story of HRT has had many ups and downs. It first became available to women in the 1940s but it wasn’t until the 1960s that it was more widely used. It was mainly prescribed for the relief of hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, anxiety, genito-urinary problems and osteoporosis.

Then, in the 1990s, there were studies in the US and UK that looked at the effects of HRT on women’s health. Research appeared to reveal an increased risk of breast cancer and although the risk was perceived to be small – and there were other known benefits of being on HRT, such as a reduction in the number of cases of osteoporotic fractures and colon cancer – the result was scary headlines in the media between 2003 and 2007.

Subsequently, HRT use in the UK fell by 50 per cent, from 2 million to fewer than 1 million.

More poor reporting

More recently, another media storm focused on the scaremongering of HRT “dangers” for women. Research at the University of Oxford, then reported in The Lancet, led to many newspapers reporting the headline “HRT doubles the risk of breast cancer”.

It’s worth having a read of the British Menopause Society’s letter to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). It is revealing the suggested flaws in the research.

Positives from the negatives

While there are obvious negatives created by the “bad news” stories both of HRT use and, more generally, women’s health, it is possible to find some positives, too. s as take aways and positives to re-enforce why we need to continue to raise awareness on menopause & why there is such a big need for people like me / why my services or services like mine are so crucial .

• HRT back on the news agenda. News items, such as HRT shortages and potential health implications, inevitably lead to greater public discussion. It’s been interesting to witness the growing number of women who were keen to be quoted in newspaper articles and spoke out on TV and radio, as well as on social media platforms.

It is great that there is now a greater awareness of the menopause but there is still a lot more to do to ensure that more people, women and men, have a better understanding of the issues and the support required.

This is why I am happy to speak at conferences that aim to address menopause health and workplace issues. I also organise events and socials through Women of a Certain Stage to ensure that the conversation about the menopause continues.

• Women are increasingly better informed. While negative news is not necessarily what people want to hear or read about, it has led to more women questioning and probing the reports and trying to understand the pros and cons of HRT for themselves.

There is plenty still for many women to learn and understand and I believe that it’s vital we continue to seek expert advice of professional for better understanding of the menopause. Coaching and mentoring can also be of huge benefit to career-focused women.

• If not HRT, then what can I do? Another benefit of the “bad news” as I see it, is that women are more willing to look at other triggers for menopause symptoms. If they are facing limited HRT supplies, they want to be informed about what they could do to minimise symptoms.

If your HRT becomes unavailable there are 9 self-help tips during menopause. (link to a downloadable pdf or a section of your website…)

Steps forwards not backwards

While negative press can seem like a backward step it can, as has been seen with various HRT news stories, as a way to go forward in a more positive way.

Over the last few years, there has been a groundswell in the conversation about the menopause, both among women and also men, and this has to be a good thing.

Many people would prefer that the bad news stories never existed in the first place and that research, medical knowledge and media response was better judged. However, if the bad leads to some good then let’s take that and move forwards.

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