So here they are – the results! Over 2000 of you took part in the Physical symptoms of Midlife survey so we have some really interesting and relevant information here. As somebody who hates maths, I am always surprised by how much I love data. I suppose because of my marketing background I have learned how to delve into it and interpret it. Every so often the numbers will tell you that something you had always assumed to be true is completely wrong. Of course everyone always interprets results differently so I’ll be really interested to hear what you have to say.
So the first question was there to give us context – an overview of the ages of the women joining in. The survey didn’t reflect the ages of the general readership of Midlifechic but it makes sense that the people who are feeling the symptoms (aged 45 – 54) are the most invested in this survey.
More context here which resonates more broadly with the general readership of Midlifechic.
Age of children
I added the question about ages children with my ‘blue chip’ marketing head on, thinking we would be able to crunch data to find out whether having children later delays the onset of menopause. Of course I forgot that I do not have that kind of software at my fingertips now but here it is anyway.
15% of respondents do not have children.
Age of onset of symptoms
So, now it starts to get interesting. It seems that 48 is the key year ladies, the age when your body starts to change noticeably.
Which are the most common symptoms?
2000 is a large enough sample size for these results to matter and there are some clear commonalities in terms of symptoms. I am hoping that the very least that comes out of this is that firstly people know they are not alone in their symptoms and secondly that the 12% of respondents who are not aware of any symptoms will now know what to look out for.
I’m really glad that I added an ‘other’ field to this question. The most common additions were:
- dry eyes, mouth and hair
- disturbances to periods – irregularity, sudden flooding and continual bleeding
- panic attacks
- sudden tearfulness
- foot pain and inability to wear heels
- loss of sense of smell or sinus issues
- bloating (often as a reaction to wheat or dairy)
- ability to metabolise alcohol – improved for some but deteriorated for others
- increased libido
- itchiness – ‘as if I have invisible insects on my legs’
Which symptoms are the worst?
So, given that the same number of women answered this and the question above with their identical fields, you would at first expect the stats to tally more than they do. The main reason for the variation is the ‘other’ field. For this question many more people added their own response. A very common answer in ‘other’ was that respondents couldn’t decide which symptom was the worst because they were interrelated (eg night sweats led to insomnia which led to anxiety and brain fog…) and they all felt bad. I have listed the rest after the chart.
A further factor that struck me in the ‘other’ section was that for many women, the cognitive / emotional changes that we discussed in the first midlife post are harder to deal with than the chronological / physical ones. Lots of answers focused on:
- loss of confidence
- “I don’t feel like a woman any more”
- “I don’t recognise myself”
- “I’ve lost my sense of purpose”
- “I feel invisible, people (especially men) seem to look right through me. Even my children.”
- “I miss sex – enjoying it and wanting it”
- “brain fog affects my ability to work effectively and be taken seriously”
- “anxiety ranks second especially during the night when I wake up and can’t get back to sleep for hours”
- “the loss of concentration, really dispiriting”
- “I honestly can’t choose which is worst between hot flushes, brain fog, weight gain, rages”
- “it is impossible to identify only one, there are so many that cumulatively it is not a happy place and I feel I am too young to be going through this!!”
When did you have your final period?
In hindsight it might have been better if I was more granular about this, breaking down the ages into specific years however I had the feeling that most women wouldn’t know exactly when their last period was. If the average age of onset of symptoms is 48, this helps explain the confusion of women not knowing what is happening to them in the stage known as perimenopause. Symptoms begin at least 3 years before the classic menopausal marker of the final period.
HRT … or not?
In every survey I ever read, there’s always a stat that blows my mind and this one is it. So many women are struggling but only 11% are taking HRT. Given that last year’s reader survey told me that 69% of Midlifechic readers are educated to degree level or beyond, this suggests that respondents have most likely taken an active, informed decision not to take HRT.
As you know, before I started talking about midlife, I did what is called ‘qualitative’ research on 32 women which means I discussed these issues in depth with them. This questionnaire gives us quantitative results – a larger volume of brief answers to the main issues to see if it backed up what I had found. This one does not. In my qualitative conversations, 50% of the women were taking HRT so I am a little perplexed.
Has HRT helped?
This figure does line up with my qualitative results. Most of the women I know who are taking HRT have found it has made a big difference. In fact the difference is visible. Even setting personality factors aside, I could sense that the women who were finding HRT helpful were more ‘vital’ and more positive. I’m not telling you to take HRT by the way, I’m simply reporting what I’ve found.
Interestingly quite a few women in this survey commented that they had continued to take the contraceptive pill or had a Mirena IUD. Both options seemed to radically reduce the symptoms experienced in perimenopause.
Have you found a natural alternative to HRT?
This figure also lined up with my interviews. I didn’t really find anyone who was clearly feeling helped by natural remedies.
A lot of people said they took a multi-vitamin as a form of ‘insurance’ (Menopace was mentioned repeatedly). In the comments there were lots of individual recommendations. The most common were:
- magnesium (for sleeping)
- evening primrose oil
- dietary changes (specifically cutting out sugar, red wine, caffeine, chocolate) – the good things in life it seems sadly!
- starflower oil
- natural progesterone cream
- natural topical lubricants or Omega 7 (for vaginal dryness)
- bio-identical testosterone
- Vitamin D for joint pains
- starflower oil
- B vitamins
- ice packs in bed
- water sprays kept in the fridge
- exercise (especially to improve sleeping)
Where do you turn to for information?
It doesn’t surprise me to see that we rely heavily on the internet for information. A number of people have mentioned that they have found the website menopausematters very helpful. Although 26% had found discussing it with friends very helpful, this was counterbalanced by the number of people who said they wished their friends would talk more about it but that it seemed to be taboo.
Other reliable sources of information mentioned were:
- Radio 4 (especially Woman’s Hour) – podcasts available
- Blogs (hurray)!
- Private GPs / doctors specialising in menopause
How do you feel about this new stage of life?
So this brings us to our final chart, the one that takes the temperature over all. It tells us that 64% of us are feeling positive about this unavoidable next stage in our lives but 36% are not.
The reason for my recent focus on Midlife issues
This slide, you see, brings us to the point of why I’ve done this.
I’ve had a bit of a backlash with people implying that covering midlife is ‘distasteful’ and suggesting I just focus on the fashion – but I don’t find that very fulfilling. There are plenty of other blogs that will give you a quick fashion fix if that’s what you want.
The fact is that this blog is becoming a much bigger part of my life than I ever anticipated and if I’m going to keep on doing it, I need to feel it has more purpose than just giving you 10 ways to wear a jumper.
The result I’m taking from this survey is that a large number of my very important readers (many of whom have become my friends) are not feeling positive about the next stage. We can’t avoid growing older and everything that comes with it but I do believe that if you know you are looking the best you can, it will help a bit.
So for as long as I can, I’m going to keep on showing you easy ways to do that. As we go along, we can chat about all the midlife issues that affect us, in the same way that we have always talked about our children and the joys and sadnesses that their growing away brings.
And now I’m heading down to London for a few days that will be filled with interesting meetings with some of our favourite brands and I go armed with lots of your comments from the last 6 months to share with them.
I really look forward to hearing your interpretation and thoughts about this survey. I may not be able to answer you all individually though. You see because the new financial year is starting for a lot of companies this is the busiest time of year for me in both my marketing job and my blog.
We reached over 100 comments last time and the great thing was that lots of you helped me by answering each other questions before I could get to them (I’m nearly there). Please do that again and know that I read every single one the minute it comes in. Even if I don’t get back to you, I will be factoring your input into my thoughts for the next post and to the discussions I have with brands. It makes all the difference and once again, I am so very grateful for the input you invest into Midlifechic.