As a GP and a menopause specialist, I spend a significant amount of time in my working week either helping and advising women with their menopause or writing articles about the health effects of the menopause. I am often surprised how little women know about their menopause. Many women know very little about the wide variety of symptoms that can occur when their hormone levels start to drop. They are also unaware of the increased risk of both osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease which are associated with the low levels of oestrogen in our bodies that occur with the menopause.
However, despite this, I am embarrassed to admit that I failed to diagnose my own menopausal symptoms; it was my 11 year old daughter who actually made the diagnosis for me.
I had been experiencing horrendous night sweats most nights for a few months. Waking up in the early hours of the morning covered in a layer of sweat was awful. Some nights I would wake up worried that I had urinated myself as the sheets around me were wringing wet. Changing my pyjamas and the bed sheets once or twice a night was doing nothing for my husband’s mood and energy levels, nor our relationship with each other.
I also found that I was much more tired than usual. The extreme fatigue was similar to the tiredness I experienced when I was pregnant. I had a “brain fog” and was finding it really hard to concentrate on even very simple tasks. I usually rely on my evenings to finish off work, sort out the washing, tidy the house and cook for my children but those tasks were not getting done as I was finding I needed to go to bed much earlier than I used to because I was so tired. I just thought this tiredness was due to the extra demands of work and life in general so hadn’t really thought much about there being another cause for them.
Then, a month later, I was cooking in the kitchen and out of the blue I experienced my first hot flush; it was unbearable! One of my daughters (who was 11 at the time) asked me what was wrong as I looked so hot and sweaty. Then she asked me why I had been so short tempered with her recently. She even asked if I was due a period as her friends were quite often stroppy before their periods.
It was only then that the penny dropped and I realised I hadn’t actually had a period for several months. I was 45 years old and although perimenopausal symptoms can often occur in women from the age of 45, I just wasn’t expecting them to happen to me.
I feel quite embarrassed as I should have known better. I am very aware of all the symptoms women can experience as a result of the hormone changes that occur during the menopause and I had just been dismissing mine and putting them down to other reasons.
As I am otherwise fit and healthy, I started to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The dose and preparations have been adjusted over the past few months and I now feel amazing. My energy levels are the best they have been for decades, I am back to multi-tasking again and my concentration is so much better. My skin and hair feel healthy and my joints don’t feel as stiff when I do my yoga practice. Even my husband has commented that he wished he could take a male type of HRT as he has noticed the change in me.
However, not everyone’s response to my menopause “diagnosis” was as positive as my husband’s. Some of my friends’ comments to me when I told them I had started taking HRT were really surprising and unexpected.
- “Surely you are too young to take HRT?” (There is no lower age limit for taking HRT)
- “But HRT is so dangerous” (The benefits of HRT outweigh the risks in the vast majority of women under 60 years of age)
- “Doesn’t going through the menopause make you feel so old?” (I am quite relieved actually, as I did not have symptoms for long and now feel so much better)
- “Won’t you still be really young when you come off HRT after 5 years?” (There is no maximum length of time to take HRT for so I am very likely to take it for far longer than 5 years)
- “I thought you had to wait for your symptoms to be really bad or even unbearable before your doctor could give you HRT” (There is increasing evidence that the earlier HRT is started the more it protects you from heart disease and osteoporosis)
However, I have found that being so open and transparent about the menopause has facilitated much discussion and conversation among my friends and even some of my colleagues which is fantastic.
Women do not talk enough about their menopausal symptoms and are often confused about where to go for accurate, unbiased information. This needs to change so I hope this website and my clinic will really be able to help many women.