Why we need to talk about menopause

Menopause is something we don't often chew the fat about. 

Women in New Zealand reach menopause at around the age of 51, after a year without a visit from 'Aunty Flo' and when the ovaries aren't making so much mess.

But before menopause, her annoying cousin perimenopause comes a-knockin'. Symptoms include thinning hair, anxiety, dry vagina, weight gain, brain fog and chin hair, among others.

Menopause expert Dr Beverley Lawton says 80 percent of menopausal women will experience symptoms - 25 percent will have severe symptoms.

"We don't talk about menopause often. I think it's sort of in the closet," she told The Project. 

"We associate it with ageing, it's not considered a positive thing in an environment which cherishes youth-like things." 

She says it can get "very tough" for those in the throes of menopause, and it can affect your entire life. 

"Not sleeping is a form of torture used in wartime. Some women come to see me and they haven't slept a whole night through for two years."

Those who have already suffered through decades of intense periods shouldn't worry - Dr Lawton says it's "totally unrelated" to how severe menopause will be. 

"The ovaries make the hormones that make us feel normal in our cycles, and then they stop making them unfortunately even though we're born with enough follicles to keep making them, they somehow go away. 

"It's really sad really because if they stayed we could have babies until we were 100, although some people think that's not a good idea."

She treats women suffering from bad menopause symptoms with hormone replacement therapy, which supplements the depleted estrogen levels that cause those symptoms in the meantime. It can be an issue that affects an entire family.

"I have women come and say to me 'I can't function at work and I'm the only earner in the household'," she says.

"If mum's grumpy, she's not sleeping, she's losing her temper, she's just acting differently, then the family needs to know there's something going on. It's a very difficult time for a woman and many of them just need to be reassured that this is normal."