If you’re one of the many women suffering from symptoms of perimenopause or menopause I feel your pain! I know what it’s like to live with things like hot flushes and cold sweats, aches and pains and a foggy brain. These symptoms can have a significant impact on your quality of life and make you constantly feel like crap.
I want you to know you’re not alone and you don’t have to grin and bear it. There are effective, life-changing treatments available. The path might not be straightforward, but when you do find relief you’ll be able to fully embrace this time of your life, a time referred to as the ‘Second Spring’. A veil will lift and you will feel fantastic.
My experience of how Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) has transformed my midlife has inspired me to share my story. In doing so I hope that you feel empowered to take the first step towards finding relief if menopause symptoms are bothering you.
The road to HRT
If you look up the symptoms of menopause I could go down the list and tick pretty much all of them. Here’s the top 5 that impacted on my life. Can you relate to any of these?
- Insomnia. I had trouble getting to sleep and trouble staying asleep. Most nights consisted of hours of tossing and turning like a chicken on the rotisserie.
- Night sweats. Waking up at the aforementioned 2am drenched in sweat. #Gross
- Hot flushes. All day, every day. I would’ve had 3 by the time I got to work. Needless to say I started my working day exhausted and bedraggled.
- Aches and pains. Everything ached – my toes, my thumbs, my back, my head, my knees, ETC.
- Anxiety and mood disorder. Full. Blown. Rage. I once let out a screaming tirade at a store manager over a misunderstanding about a receipt. People gathered to watch the show! But seriously, menopause coincides with a really difficult time when you might also be dealing with things like losing a parent, raising teenagers or empty nesting. It’s the perfect shitstorm so please seek help if you’re struggling with your mental health.
Nothing I did made a difference
I’d already made positive changes to my lifestyle including becoming a runner. I was exercising and doing yoga and I was eating well. I scaled up my intake of green powders and orange vitamins and scaled down anything remotely fun like coffee, alcohol and baked goods.
All of this made me feel fit and healthy, but nothing alleviated the symptoms. After two years of my Second Spring being more like my Millionth Winter, I started HRT.
Here’s what surprised me – there are many types and combinations of HRT. There’s estrogen only, estrogen and progesterone, cyclical or continuous. There’s tablets, patches, creams and pessaries. What’s right for you depends on your personal and family medical history. Your treatment needs to be tailored to your situation, preferably by a doctor who has a special interest in women’s health.
When I sought advice from my doctor about treatments her advice was that HRT carries minimal risk when started early in menopause, at the lowest effective dose, for the shortest period of time. Sign me up!
How my midlife has been transformed
Within 24 hours (yes, just one day!) the hot flushes didn’t feel as intense. I put it down to the placebo effect. By the end of the week I was hot flush free. HRT had alleviated them to the point of being non-existent!
It got even better. After a few weeks I felt the veil lift. There were no more night sweats, I started sleeping better and I felt much calmer. I’m now two years into taking HRT and I haven’t had a hot flush in all that time.
Furthermore, the aches and pains have also gone and my brain is no longer foggy (mostly, haha). I feel fantastic and I’m loving my Second Spring.
There’s no doubt that keeping active, eating healthy and being sensible with treats is essential to me feeling happy and healthy. I’m convinced, however, that HRT is the icing on my midlife cake.
What about alternative treatments?
Complementary therapies such as yoga have really helped me feel stronger and calmer during the transition to menopause, and are beneficial for overall health. I am cautious, however, of botanical and dietary supplements sold as natural alternatives to HRT. The market for these products is largely unregulated and therefore open to false claims.
I hate knowing that women desperate for symptom relief are being ripped off or, even worse, sold products that may interact with other medications or cause serious side effects.
That’s just my take on it ‘though. Importantly, please do your own research and make your own decisions. If you are curious about alternative treatments be mindful of the source of the information. Have there been clinical trials showing effectiveness of the product, it’s benefits and risks? If not, the claims of symptom relief may be anecdotal at best and fraudulent at worst.
Why is HRT still taboo?
HRT is a hot potato. Chances are if it comes up in conversation it will elicit very strong opinions. You may be warned of dangers and risks, or you might feel judged for not being able to deal with menopause ‘naturally’.
HRT was first prescribed in the 1960s, and by the 1990s women were flocking to this ‘miracle elixir’ in droves. The evidence was overwhelming – symptoms like hot flushes, aching joints, headaches and dry skin either vanished or were significantly improved.
That all changed in 2002 when the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study cited an increased risk of breast cancer, stroke and heart disease from HRT. Women worldwide threw away their patches and to this day some still struggle to find a doctor who’ll prescribe it.
In brief, the 2002 WHI study was flawed in its methodology in which participants in their 70s were given HRT with the aim of reducing their risk of heart disease. This was problematic because HRT should not be given to women in their 70s. Furthermore, it should only be given to treat menopausal symptoms, not to protect against other diseases.
What’s the latest on HRT?
Dr Ginni Mansberg, an Australian doctor with a special interest in women’s health has recently published an excellent book, The M Word. It contains well researched, factual information about menopause symptoms and treatment options. Dr Ginni reports that the bottom line on HRT as clearly stated by the International Menopause Society is that new data and re-analyses of older studies show that:
‘For most women, the potential benefits of HRT given for a clear indication are many and the risks are few when initiated within a few years of menopause.’Mansberg, G. (2020). The M Word. Sydney: Murdoch Books, p. 39
What to do if menopause symptoms are making you miserable
Menopause is a natural event in the course of your life but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with feeling like crap. If symptoms are impacting on your quality of life please consider the following:
- Start with self-care. Do what you can to show your body, mind and soul a whole lot of love. Know that it’s possible to feel fantastic and to transform how you experience midlife.
- Arm yourself with knowledge. At the end of this post you’ll find some resources to get you started.
- Find a great doctor who’s up on the latest research and treatments for menopause. Don’t settle if you’re not convinced, keep searching until you find one who is.
- Be open minded to the fact that you may have to try a few different types of treatments before finding one that’s right for you.
- If you decide to use alternative treatments including bio-identical hormones, herbs or supplements please talk to your doctor first.
- You deserve to feel the best you possibly can during this time. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or ashamed for the choices you make about your body.
Sharing our stories
I hope my story encourages you to reflect on your own experience. It’s only by telling our stories that we can help to break down the myths about menopause. This empowers us, and each other, to live a happy, healthy and fulfilling midlife.
PS Here are some great resources about menopause:
Australia’s leader in women’s health – Jean Hailes Foundation
Find a doctor with advanced knowledge in menopause – Find an Australian Menopause Society doctor
A terrific article in The Guardian about the years leading up to menopause – Surviving Perimenopause
Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Menopause – Journal of Evidence-based and Integrative Medicine
Review of Dr Ginni Mansberg’s book – The M Word – How to Thrive in Menopause