Ulrika Jonsson’s warning over common menopause taboo – and emotional plea to men
Hot flushes, night sweats, and irregular periods are all common symptoms of the menopause that many people are aware of. But despite the change being something every woman will go through, not much is spoken about a lesser-known and taboo symptom – bladder leakage.
Ulrika Jonnson, who has openly spoken about her periods coming to an end, says she was ‘stunned’ to realise it affects so many women going through menopause – with one survey claiming half of women experience it. While she recognises awareness has improved over the last decade about the menopause and treatment in general, she argues more conversations need to be had and that women should inform their partners about what they’re going through, instead of having the tendency to brush things under the carpet and face things alone.
The 55-year-old mother-of-four initially mistook her menopause at the age of 46 as early onset dementia. At the time, she hadn’t spoken to anyone about menopause symptoms and assumed it was something that would happen once she was in her late fifties instead.
“The memory loss was the most terrifying symptom,” Ulrika explains to The Mirror.
“We all have that thing of walking into a room and not remembering why we’ve gone in. You could put that down to being busy and having so many things to think about.
“But it was that thing of being in a conversation with somebody and not finding the next word.”
She also felt low – due to lower hormone levels.
“There was definitely a change in my moods,” she continues.
“Whilst I’ve had the experience of depression and probably will do all my life, this was different. This didn’t feel like depression, it’s very hard to describe, I just felt very, very down and anxious.”
A keen swimmer at the time, Ulrika also noticed muscle loss and a slight weight gain.
“Like I think a lot of women do, I kept it to myself, because it’s women and we just soldier on,” she adds.
Six months later she confided in a friend who is nine years older, who broke it to her that she was actually going through menopause.
Upon the realisation, she felt robbed of a new era where she wanted to focus on herself and be carefree.
“I felt like my kids are a bit older, I should be able to have this as my time,” she explains.
“And suddenly mother nature comes and hits you with something that I thought wasn’t going to happen until maybe late 50s, early 60s. I don’t know why I thought that. Well, I do know why I thought that – because we just didn’t talk about it.”
Although she hasn’t experienced bladder leaks due to menopause, she understands the impact after experiencing it during her last pregnancy 15 years ago.
New research released today for World Menopause Day (October 18) by Always Discreet reveals that despite as many as 1 in 2 women experiencing bladder leaks during menopause, a whopping 52 per cent of women have no idea that it is a sign of the menopause while 65 per cent of women say they “suffer in silence”.
Of those in the UK who do experience bladder leakage, 71 per cent said that they are affected by bladder leaks every day, leading them to stop doing everyday things, including: laughing too hard (30pc), having sex (16pc), going to the gym (14pc) and leading them to feel embarrassed (56pc), sad (30pc) and angry (18pc).
As women become perimenopausal, oestrogen levels start to drop. The drop in this hormone thins the urethra and weakens the pelvic floor, meaning bladder leaks may become more likely for some women during menopause.
“I was stunned to realise that bladder leaks are so common for women during menopause,” the TV personality, who partnered with Always Discreet to raise awareness, continues.
“I thought it was something only associated with much older women.
“And the fact that it affects half of all women going through the menopause is even more damning that we aren’t talking about it.
“My last pregnancy was blighted at the time by bladder leaks, presumably because of the pressure of the baby. So I have experience of it.
“And I completely know psychologically, what that does to you and physically, it’s damn awkward. It’s embarrassing and it feels like you want to hide away and disappear.”
She talks about friends who do experience bladder leaks, which are often laughed off as a coping mechanism.
But Ulrika, who now manages her symptoms with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), says while that is expected, people need to acknowledge that there is help out there.
She says women have a tendency to push their health to one side while juggling all manner of other things, while she argues if menopause was a male issue, there would be more education and research.
“They’ll either sneeze or have a laugh and they go ‘oh, I’ve wet myself’ and that’s our way of getting through it,” Ulrika says about how bladder leakage is mentioned in her friendship circle.
“And that’s comedy and that’s great – I always think that that always slightly softens any taboo.
“But then what happens after that? There is more than just wearing a pad; you can do things to improve things, and we need to get that message out.
“It’s all sort of fun and games, but it is really profound. I wouldn’t stop anyone joking about it, and I think we can use comedy as a way of us getting the conversation started.”
Although currently single, Ulrika says it would be important to share that information with a partner if she was in a relationship, and encourages other women to do the same.
“I would definitely be having a conversation with my partner about it,” she states.
“I would be slightly fearful that it would somehow affect our relationship or his attitude towards me, but the whole point is you have to accept a person for everything and then hopefully, you can seek out the help that there is out there and be the best that you can.”
Ulrika speaking out about her journey with menopause comes as MPs have called for all women aged 45 to be invited for an NHS health check so doctors can talk to them about the menopause.
The cross-party All-Party Parliamentary Group on Menopause (APPG) said far more needs to be done to help women and offer advice, including making HRT prescriptions free on the NHS and improving training for medics on symptoms.
Its new report published last week said: “The NHS must implement a health check for all women at the age of 45, offered in a similar way to cervical cancer smears when all women are invited to make an appointment.
“This is crucial to ensure women are engaged with the health system ahead of or in the early stages of perimenopause, help diagnose menopause at an earlier stage and ensure women are better prepared, and have the right information and treatment they need to manage the menopause transition.”
Men and women are already offered a free NHS health check once they hit 40 but that specifically looks for early signs of stroke, heart disease, diabetes or dementia.
In its new study, the APPG said one of its central concerns is that women face a postcode lottery on whether they can access the right treatment from their GP.
Always Discreet’s Menopause Education Hub has already educated over 100,000 women through resources from free menopause masterclasses to pelvic floor workouts.