HIV and the Menopause

Thursday, November 17th, 2016 in Women living with HIV

Shema Tariq

Please introduce yourself in a few words…

My name is Shema Tariq. I split my time between working as a consultant in HIV at Mortimer Market Centre (London) and as an HIV researcher at UCL. For the past ten years, I have worked on improving the health and wellbeing of women living with HIV. I currently lead the PRIME Study, a national study looking at menopause in women living with HIV.

What is the menopause?

The menopause (or the ‘change’) is the time when women’s periods stop permanently (either naturally or because of medical treatment) and they lose their reproductive potential. In the UK alone 13 million women are going through or have been through the menopause, many experiencing symptoms and possibly facing other longer term health impacts.

What can we expect as women living with HIV during the menopause?

The average age of the menopause in the UK is 51-52 years. As women approach this time they may notice their periods get more irregular or heavier. Women commonly notice sudden feelings of being hot (hot flushes). Other symptoms include difficulties sleeping, feeling irritable, feeling low, aches and pains, dryness in the vagina, loss of interest in sex, and difficulty concentrating. Of course, not all women experience symptoms, and those that do might find that they manage their symptoms very well themselves.

Does the menopause differ for women living with HIV?

Some studies show that women living with HIV experience menopause earlier (by 2 to 3 years), and that they experience more symptoms. But there is still a lot of work to be done in this area.

We know that the risk of osteoporosis (fragile bones) is increased in HIV and in women after the menopause. So women living with HIV who have reached the menopause may be at particular risk of bone disease.

Finally, our research has found that women living with HIV may face challenges in recognising and managing menopause symptoms, not knowing if symptoms are related to HIV or the menopause, and feeling “stuck” between GPs and specialist HIV services.

What can help us, as women with HIV, going through the menopause well?

If you are worried about symptoms, then you can speak to your hospital doctor or your GP. They should be able to help you. Women who have troubling symptoms can take hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This treatment replaces the oestrogen hormone that is lost as we get older. It is safe for most women and your doctors can advise you about it. It is available as tablets, patches, gels and creams. It is safe to take with HIV medication for most women.

There are also things you can do to help yourself. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, reducing alcohol and stopping smoking may all help with symptoms and also make sure you stay healthy well into older age.

What is the Prime Study?

Our team are conducting one of the largest studies to date in Europe, and the first ever in the UK, looking at how the menopause affects the health and well-being of women living with HIV. The PRIME Study is recruiting 1500 women living with HIV aged between 45 and 60 from 20 HIV clinics across England. Women are invited to complete a short questionnaire, with some women taking part in an in-depth interview so we can find out more about their experiences. All participation is confidential.

Is it too late to get involved?

No! If you are a woman living with HIV aged between 45 and 60 then we need your help. Together we can find out how to improve the health and wellbeing of women living with HIV as they get older. If you are interested in taking part please speak to your HIV clinic to see if they are involved in the study, or email me at s.tariq@ucl.ac.uk

Where can we find out more?

If this has sparked your interest, then you can find out more about PRIME at our website and by following us on Twitter at @Prime_UCL.

For more information about the menopause then please check out these websites:

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