Women who are going through the menopause, particularly those with complex health issues, are being urged to speak to their GP.

It comes as doctors will now have the option to refer patients to a new dedicated menopause clinic at the National Maternity Hospital.

It is the first of four clinics that will open this year as research has shown there are serious societal and health impacts on women who are in menopause.

Menopause generally starts when a woman is in her mid-late forties when the reproductive hormones start to wane due to aging.

Periods usually start to become less frequent but it can take years for them to stop completely - this is called the "perimenopause" which can affect younger women.

Susan Gannon was approaching 40 when she started experiencing physical symptoms including pains in her joints, thinning hair but it was her mental health which really suffered; she had an "overwhelming anxiety".

"I couldn't eat, there were tears, I was crying all the time.. I'd be walking to work crying."

Susan had previously suffered from anxiety and thought it was recurring but medication to treat anxiety didn't help

A friend suggested her symptoms might be menopause related; Susan joined an online forum and realised she was probably menopausal.

She was eventually diagnosed with perimenopause and started on a course of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) which she says was "life-changing".

"It was like a switch went on and I felt myself; my brain started working again."

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Woman's health specialist GP Dr Deirdre Lundy says a lot of women who enter their menopausal years find they cannot remember things, are not as focused as they used to be.

"The ovaries are responsible for a lot of hormone release; oestrogen and testosterone are really key to mental health and cognitive performance."

Dr Lundy says the hormonal disruption caused by menopause can really be improved with the correct hormone replacement cocktail.

The wider health implications of the menopause have been highlighted by Cervical check, which has launched a campaign to target women in their 50s - many of whom don't come forward for their smear tests as it can be a more uncomfortable process for those going through menopause.

While most women with menopause symptoms can be supported by their GP, around a quarter will need specialist medical care.

Dr Lundy is heading up a specialist menopause clinic at the National Maternity Hospital, the first of four announced last year.

She leads a team of three; with one other specialist doctor, and a Clinical Nurse Manager.

Their remit is to see women referred to them who have complex medical needs who may not be able to go on a standard Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).

They will also reach out to GPs in the community to provide support and information to ensure women who go to their GP practice are being given the correct advice, and put on the right treatment.

Three more clinics will open in Cork, Limerick and Galway later in 2022.