THE menopause, and the years preceding it (peri-menopause) can provoke a number of challenges.

There are more than 30 symptoms, which can be difficult to distinguish from other health conditions, including thyroid disorders, fibromyalgia, and depression.

It also presents differently across individuals, for example Indian women have been found to experience menopause earlier than British women, and Asian women are less likely to report severe symptoms overall.

Some women experience more psychological symptom patterns, such as depression, anxiety and brain fog, whereas others suffer more from genitourinary symptoms, such as vaginal dryness, painful sex and loss of libido. This can make treating it especially tricky.

Aside from the typical presentation of hot flushes and night sweats, women also present with symptoms that are not commonly associated with menopause, including digestive issues, allergies, itchy skin, irregular heartbeat and electric shock sensations.

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Research shows menopausal women are less likely to seek help for their symptoms, even when they become debilitating. This can be because of practical reasons like work and family commitments making it difficult to attend GP appointments. Taboo beliefs about the menopause can also act as a barrier: a survey, by the British Menopause Society, found many women felt too embarrassed to discuss intimate symptoms, particularly when a female health provider was unavailable.

Additionally, because of the nature of this condition, many women view the menopause as a natural transition that does not require treatment.

However, menopause onset can often coincide with a number of long-term health conditions, including osteoporosis, heart disease and depression. Leaving severe menopause symptoms untreated can lead to poorer quality of life, which can exacerbate health issues.

What is more worrying is that menopause has also been associated with suicide risk, and evidence, from the Office for National Statistics, verified that UK women, between the ages of 51 and 54, are more likely than any other female age bracket to commit suicide. Incidentally, the average age to reach menopause in the UK is 51.

With these issues in mind, it is highly important to seek out solutions, which encourage menopausal women to promptly seek medical treatment, as and when they need it.

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During Covid-19, more people are choosing to engage with online information sources. Symptom checkers are becoming increasingly important for those who think they may be experiencing peri-menopause or menopause. They can help identify if symptoms are menopausal and provide greater education about symptoms, which can enable women to confidently discuss them with their clinicians.

I have been researching the influence of online health tools on menopausal health outcomes in collaboration with Health & Her, a website geared towards supporting menopausal women which includes a symptom checker.

As part of my research, I surveyed symptom checker users and found the tool increased medical help-seeking, communication with health professionals, and health awareness. Many women said their symptoms had improved since using the tool, and they related these improvements to becoming empowered to seek help.

Respondents also described how they were coping during Covid-19, many had chosen to engage more with online tools and internet-based information sources as they faced increasing barriers to face-to-face health care. Participants also reported becoming more health conscious and hailed the symptom tool as a trusted educational resource.

This study demonstrates a need to focus medical research on evaluating the use of online health resources, and this need has become especially relevant in light of the pandemic, as health provision shifts towards digitalised formats.

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Despite its disadvantages, menopause can also be viewed as a milestone which brings forth more freedom and greater opportunities.

Many women report feelings of empowerment and confidence after menopause, as it often coincides with greater financial stability and fewer family-based commitments, giving them more time to focus on themselves and what makes them happy.

However, for those who need support, digital health tools could provide a means of accessing prompt and help them feel more in control of their menopause journey.

October is World Menopause Awareness Month. Robin Andrews is a Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships-funded doctoral researcher at University of South Wales.

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