It won't come as a surprise to many that media powerhouse Kirsty Wark doesn't sleep much.

But the main reason isn't some Margaret Thatcher-style view that more than a few hours gets in the way of working. It is the menopause which causes her night sweats and wakefulness - but that isn't a subject most of us talk about.

The 62 year-old Newsnight presenter is setting out to change that. "I want mothers to talk to their daughters about it, grandmothers to talk to their grand-daughters and men to talk to their partners," she says.

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"We have a responsibility to have those conversations."

Without that, she says, women are suffering, very often in silence and crucially doing without the help they could get to alleviate their symptoms.

"Imagine if you were put in a box and had heat flung at you and there was nothing you could do about it," she says of her own symptoms, which she still gets, 15 years after she had her ovaries removed at the same time as undergoing a hysterectomy to alleviate complications she had experienced since the birth of her son.

The surgery would have prompted the menopause immediately, but it did not happen for three years, because Wark went straight on to hormone replacement therapy. But she quit the pills, in the wake of the scare over HRT prompted by a US study suggesting a possible link with breast cancer in 2002, inducing her own "change" overnight. She was also influenced by a friend finding a pre-cancerous lump in her own breast at the same time.

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"Everybody, me included, came off HRT," she says. Now she thinks that was a mistake - more recent studies suggest that oestrogen-only HRT, without the progestin which was in combined pills, doesn't increase breast cancer risk for those with no predisposition to the illness. But as a journalist, she knows it is difficult to get coverage for such a story. "It isn't so exciting. People haven't been able to get that message out."

One of the consequences, as she explores in her BBC2 programme on the subject An Insider's Guide to the Menopause this week, is that she missed 10 years of potential medical help. Undergoing a scan for the programme, she discovered a deficit in bone density on her hip, which might have been prevented by HRT.

In that hiatus during which HRT was under suspicion, women stopped asking for it and doctors stopped learning about it, she says. "GPs stopped finding out about the latest developments and women missed out on something which could have alleviated their symptoms."

And while Wark's symptoms are relatively mild, for some women interviewed in the programme, the menopause is far more dramatic. Executives can be plagued by hot flushes - one of the features of menopause is it often occurs when women are at the peak of their careers, she says - one woman has mood swings so strong she feels the need to put knives away when they occur, sex lives can be impaired or ended (unnecessarily, the programme points out) there is a risk of osteoporosis and debilitating sleep deprivation.

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Little of this is discussed in public - although the condition has been the focus for comedy, from Les Dawson to Absolutely Fabulous and Mrs Brown's Boys. Wark interviews Jennifer Saunders for her programme and says some such material can be "quite funny" but adds: "It has been ripe for comedy in the wrong way - as an embarrassment and as a taboo."

She would like us to ditch the term menopause and talk instead about the change. "It is inevitable, it happens to every woman and there is no choice about it." What is more, she points out, women can expect to live for a third of their lives post-menopause. Ditching the stereotypes is overdue.

With appropriate treatment, some women can even find it liberating, Wark says. "I felt that too, in many ways. You have moved on to the next stage, with a successful change, the next phase of your life can be positive and health."

Meanwhile medical advances explored in the programme could even take fertility beyond the menopause, with ground-breaking stem cell research at Edinburgh University suggesting women may be able to continue to have children after the change.

"Such medical advances could be crucial for women who undergo premature menopause," Wark explains. "But we are already fitter and healthier for longer, so it could be an option for other women too."

An Insider’s Guide to the Menopause airs on BBC Two Scotland, Thursday 16 February, 9.00-10.00pm