Women are struggling to get treatment for the menopause or to be diagnosed with the condition, new research suggests.
A survey of 5,187 women found that many had suffered symptoms, such as hot flushes, and some had to visit their GP several times before getting the help they needed.
Around 70% of women in the poll were aged 45 to 55 and most of those had experienced sweats, low mood, anxiety, memory problems, brain fog and/or joint pains.
The majority (74%) had been experiencing menopausal symptoms for more than a year, while 15% said this had been the case for more than six years.
The menopause is when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally.
But symptoms can occur years before this happens – known as the perimenopause.
The new survey was carried out for menopause medic Dr Louise Newson, who runs the not-for-profit Newson Health Research And Education.
She has worked with TV presenter Davina McCall on raising awareness of what women go through when they hit menopause.
In the poll, 79% of women had visited a GP with their symptoms and 7% attended more than 10 times before receiving adequate help or advice.
Of those who did undergo treatment (33% of all the women surveyed), 44% had waited at least one year, and 12% had waited more than five years.
Of those given treatment, 37% of women received hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and 23% were given antidepressants.
This is despite guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) saying women should not be prescribed antidepressants for symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats.
Some 27% of women said they had also seen more than three doctors in hospital about their symptoms.
Dr Newson said: “Our survey confirmed that women are still facing delays in getting a diagnosis for their perimenopause and menopause and they’re waiting too long to get HRT, if it’s prescribed at all.
“Only 37% of women were offered HRT, and nearly half of these had to wait over a year to get it.
“A third of respondents were referred to at least three different hospital specialists for further investigations when in most cases the perimenopause and menopause should be managed by a local GP practice.
“This is a huge waste of NHS resources, including increasing the strain and workload to primary care not to mention women’s time.
“Since May of this year, we are seeing a greater appetite from medical professionals, especially in primary care, to learn more about managing the menopause. This can’t come soon enough for women who are struggling.”
A separate survey of 1,096 women by Mumsnet and Gransnet found that 14% have found it difficult to get their GP to prescribe HRT.
Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts said: “Every day on Mumsnet and Gransnet we see women speaking about how badly menopause symptoms affect their lives in every aspect, from sex and mental health to work and sleep, yet the medicine that can address these symptoms is kept out of their reach.”
Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said: “It is saddening to see the ongoing challenges that women are experiencing in the diagnosis and treatment of the menopause.
“The menopause will affect every woman at some point in their life, and it’s vital women are aware of their options and do not struggle to access treatment.
“There is no one size that fits all when it comes to the menopause. This is why it is crucial that women have access to reliable, accurate education and information so they are made aware of the options available and can make informed choices about their health.
“The pandemic has put pressure on health services, and has left many women suffering with their symptoms far longer than they should have. We recognise that women should not feel that they have to suffer in silence, and should feel comfortable seeking support through the services available.
“While access may vary, we want to reassure women that most GPs are very experienced in offering menopause care, and can refer women to specialist menopause services where necessary.”