As a GP with a particular interest in the menopause, I spend a significant part of my working week either helping women with their menopause or writing articles about the health effects of the menopause. I am often surprised how little women know about the menopause and also do not know much about the wide variety of symptoms that can occur when their hormone levels start to drop.
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 made my diagnosis.
Nine months ago, I was experiencing horrendous night sweats most nights. Waking up in the early hours of the morning covered in a layer of sweat was disgusting. Some nights I would wake up worried that I had urinated myself as the sheet around me were wringing wet. Changing my pyjamas and the bedsheets once or twice a night was doing nothing for my husband's mood and our relationship.
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" - I 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. These tasks were all not being done as I was finding that I needed to go to bed much earlier than I used to because I was so tired and fatigued.
Then a month later I was cooking in the kitchen and out of the blue experienced my first hot flush - it was unbearable! My 11-year-old daughter asked me what was wrong as I looked so hot and sweaty and then she asked me why I had been so short tempered with her and the rest of the family recently (I hadn't realised I had). 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 - I realised that I hadn't actually had a period for several months. I am 45 years old and although perimenopausal symptoms can often occur from 45, I just wasn't expecting them to happen to me.
As I am otherwise fit and healthy, I started to take 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 concentrating ability is so much better. My skin and hair feel healthy and even 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 new "diagnosis" has been as positive as my husband's. Some of my friends' comments to me after I have told them I am now taking HRT have been really surprising and unexpected.
Comments have included:
· "Surely you are too young to take HRT?" - There is no lower age limit to 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 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!
Dr Louise R. NewsonBSc(Hons) MRChB(Hons) MRCP FRCGP is a GP and menopause expert, based in Solihull, West Midlands, UK.
Follow her on twitter: @mymenopausedr