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Common misdiagnoses of menopause

Common misdiagnoses of menopause

This article has been reviewed by Zarrin Hossain.

We’re all familiar with the most common symptoms of the menopause, like hot flushes, irregular periods and night sweats.

But some women may not experience these at all, which could lead to a misdiagnosis. And a misdiagnosis can stop them from getting the help that they need and deserve. It’s been reported that out of 5,000 women in the UK, one third of them have waited at least 3 years for a correct menopause diagnosis, whilst a further 18% visited their GP six times before getting the help they needed to support their symptoms related to the menopause1.
So, let’s take a look at some of the conditions you could be diagnosed with instead of the menopause. Be mindful that just because you’ve been diagnosed with any of the following, it doesn’t mean that you’ve been misdiagnosed, it’s just something to be aware of.

Some of the common misdiagnoses1

Depression2

A lot of us can throw the word ‘depressed’ around when we’re feeling low or sad, but depression is an illness that can leave people feeling a range of things for a long period of time, such as sadness, hopelessness, poor sleep, no or low sex drive plus more.
Menopause can increase your chances of becoming depressed. However, hormone-related mood changes that come with menopause can sometimes be misdiagnosed as depression2.

Anxiety

Other mental health conditions such as anxiety can start to appear during the menopausal age, along with anger and irritability. One study showed, over a 10-year follow-up period, that there was a 9.1% increase in women who experienced anxiety compared to premenopausal level3.
Experiencing anxiety during menopause is actually common, so we suggest speaking to your GP if you’re around the menopausal age and you suddenly start having frequent anxiety. Other mental health conditions such as anxiety can start to appear during the menopausal age, along with anger and irritability. Experiencing anxiety during menopause is actually common, so we suggest speaking to your GP if you’re around the menopausal age and you suddenly start having frequent anxiety.

Chronic fatigue syndrome

This is a long-term illness which can leave you feeling extremely tired and run down, and can also cause disturbed sleep problems, dizziness, aches and pains, heart palpitations, and memory problems.
However, these symptoms can all be associated with the menopause which can make this diagnosis trickier. This is again due to a drop in female hormones, but if these symptoms are linked to the menopause, they can usually be treated with HRT4.

IBS

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive condition that causes cramps, constipation, diarrhoea, wind and bloating. In some women, digestive symptoms can happen due to low oestrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause.
However, sometimes, the link between the two isn’t made by the GP, especially if you have an existing history of IBS. If you’re of menopausal age, we suggest mentioning the link to your GP, as any digestive symptoms can often improve through HRT5.

Fibromyalgia

This is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body, potentially related to abnormal levels of chemicals in the brain changing the way the central nervous system processes pain messages6.
The symptoms again can be very similar to those associated with the menopause, like extreme tiredness, difficulty sleeping, brain fog and IBS. All of these symptoms can improve through HRT1.

Cystitis and thrush

Two things that most women can confidently say they’ve suffered from. But if you’re getting either one regularly, it could be due to low levels of oestrogen during the menopause.

A lack of oestrogen can thin the lining of your vagina, bladder and urethra, meaning you can be more vulnerable to infections and may find the tissues around the vagina become sore and itchy1.
Neither of these conditions are something you should endure on a regular basis, and you shouldn’t be taking several courses of antibiotics throughout the year when the problem could be better treated with HRT or oestrogen cream1.

Why can this happen?

Unfortunately, this can sometimes simply be down to lack of education about the menopause. GPs don’t actually receive formal menopause education as part of their training, as traditionally, menopause care has been led by gynaecologists7, explained Dr Louise Newson, GP and Menopause Specialist.This can lead to one of the reasons that a menopause diagnosis can take some years.

What impact can this have on physical and emotional wellbeing?

Like any health issues being diagnosed incorrectly, this can have a significant negative impact on physical and emotional wellbeing. A misdiagnosis can cause long-term distress that could make mental health symptoms worse.

What you can do about it

We suggest ensuring you do as much research on the menopause as you can, keeping note of any menopause related symptoms, how they’re affecting you and how long they last for. Going directly to your GP with all this information can help you receive the correct care.

It’s important to be aware of the different options that you have when it comes to managing the symptoms of menopause, to make sure you get the best care for you. The best-known menopause treatment is HRT7 (hormone replacement therapy), which includes, at a basic level, introducing oestrogen or progesterone back into your body. Another treatment option is CBT7 (cognitive behavioural therapy) but there are also natural treatment options out there for you, too.

The final say

Menopause isn’t something you should be suffering through, there are treatment options out there to help. So, if you think you’ve been misdiagnosed, we want to empower you and make sure you’re able to get the right treatment needed for you.
Sometimes this comes from taking it into your own hands. Make sure you continuously speak to loved ones about your concerns and find a community going through the same experiences as you.
If you want to speak to a person, that isn’t your GP, we offer every woman personalised support through a free 1-2-1 consultation with a trained menopause advisor. You can find out more here.