How Nigerian women mistake menopause symptoms for typhoid
Medical experts have urged Nigerian women in their late 40s and early 50s to get sensitised on the symptoms of menopause, noting that many of them who are unaware of the physiological changes of the menopausal syndrome are mistaking it for typhoid.
According to the experts, even some educated women have poor knowledge of menopause symptoms and therefore mistake it for typhoid fever and sometimes malaria infection.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise in exclusive interviews, the experts, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano State, Dr. Labaran Aliyu; and a public health physician, Dr. Austine Aipoh, explained that while menopause symptoms could be mild, moderate or severe, it is an experience that every woman will go through once she starts having the withdrawal of female hormones like oestrogen and progesterone.
The experts pointed out that women confuse menopause symptoms for typhoid fever because of some similarities in the symptoms of the two conditions, noting that proper sensitisation can help to clear such confusion.
Menopause, the experts said, can occur between the ages of 45 and 52 among women in Nigeria. They, however, added that, in rare cases, menopause can occur between the ages of 36 and 40, which is referred to as early menopause.
Aliyu, who is an associate professor at Bayero University, Kano, said the confusion surrounding menopausal symptoms can compound health issues for women at this stage, if not properly managed.
He said: “Most Nigerian women are not even aware of anything called menopausal syndrome or menopausal symptoms. Even some of the educated ones are not aware of it. If you go and ask a lot of them, they will tell you that they don’t know.
“During menopause, there are a lot of changes in women because of the withdrawal of the female hormones like the oestrogen and progesterone. Those hormones are what makes a woman. But when they are withdrawn, a lot of changes take place and those changes include those that affect the psychology, body structure and brain.
“When this happens sometimes, a woman in menopause will be sweating a lot, especially at night. She will be experiencing hot and cold flashes and there will be a lot of changes in her body. Her skin will start wrinkling and her breast will start shrinking.
“Some attribute the night sweat to typhoid fever. However, the sweating which sometimes starts profusely will just suddenly disappear.
“At a point, their body will become hot and suddenly it will become cold. These are the symptoms that they usually attribute to typhoid fever. Meanwhile, it is not typhoid. It’s just the physiological changes caused by menopause.”
The gynaecologist explained further that women also confuse the sudden onset of high temperature, which can also be a symptom of menopause, for an indication of typhoid.
“The temperature of women experiencing menopause will usually rise at a time and it will then go down. However, if they are experiencing this over and over again, they may feel they have typhoid fever. Some will even go and have a test and you know that most people will test positive for typhoid in Nigeria even when they don’t have it because the results are spurious. Meaning that it is a false-positive result.
“This lack of information among our women about the symptoms of menopause impacts negatively on their health and also on their daily activities, as many of them, become irritable,” he said.
Dr. Aliyu pointed out that besides the health implications, menopausal symptoms could also affect women’s productive outputs if they fail to seek care.
The associate professor further said that some women even feel that they have other diseases, aside from typhoid when what they are experiencing is menopausal physiological changes.
“So, these are the implications of poor knowledge of menopause on the quality of life of women and with this false assumption of having typhoid, some of them are busy taking antibiotics.
“Unfortunately, people believe so much in typhoid in Nigeria. It makes it difficult to dissuade them sometimes that what they have is not typhoid. Even the Widal test that is normally carried out for typhoid is not reliable,” he said.
He, however, explained that there are variations in menopause symptoms in women, noting that they could be severe, mild or moderate. According to him, it is not everybody that is affected severely, adding that there are factors that determine the severity of symptoms.
He explained: “For example, a woman that is living alone will be noticing these changes more because of loneliness. It will also be severe for women in an abusive relationship. The symptoms will be compounded. Those who are educated do also sometimes experience severe menopausal symptoms.
“When it is severe, they should go and see a gynaecologist who will recommend some treatment for them.”
The maternal health expert, therefore, reiterated the need for improved awareness on menopause and its associated problems, so that women would become aware of the various symptoms and know when and where to seek help.
Also speaking with our correspondent, Dr. Aipoh, lamented that many Nigerian women are unable to differentiate between menopausal syndrome and typhoid fever.
“Women in their late 40s and 50s should learn to see a doctor when they are experiencing changes in their body.
“We need health awareness because a large number of women in Nigeria confuse menopausal syndrome with typhoid and malaria.
“They will come to you and be complaining of typhoid and that they need treatment. But by the time you check them, you will find out that what they have is a menopausal syndrome and not typhoid.
“Some of them even start treatment at home with various types of antibiotics before visiting the hospital not knowing that they do not have typhoid or malaria but symptoms of menopause,” Aipoh said.
According to online information from Mayo Clinic, menopause is the time that marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycles. It’s diagnosed after a woman has gone 12 months without a menstrual period. It can happen in the 40s or 50s, but the average age is 51 in the United States.
Mayo Clinic stated that while menopause is a natural biological process, the physical symptoms, such as hot flashes, and other emotional symptoms may cause sleep disruption, lower a woman’s energy or affect emotional health.
Mayo Clinic, however, states that there are many effective treatments available, from lifestyle adjustments to hormone therapy.
Also, according to the World Health Organisation, menopause is the “permanent cessation of menstruation resulting from the loss of ovarian follicular activity”, noting that 12 months of consecutive amenorrhea is recognised to occur in natural menopause.
The global health agency explained that menopause is prompted by a decline in estrogen and progesterone production, and rising follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) levels.