Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is something that people have quite strong views about. You’re either for it, against it, or can’t take it due to other health conditions. I’m not going to tell anyone whether they should take it or not, but I’d like to share my menopause story with you and tell you how HRT has helped some of my symptoms.
As a girl, I had started my periods at aged twelve, and from day one they gave me problems—from extreme pain and cramping to clotting and prolonged irregular cycles. Throughout my menstrual years, I suffered from all kinds of gynecological conditions that never got better. I was relieved when doctors agreed the only option was to remove my uterus with a hysterectomy. I had my children several years before and had no use for the part of my body that only caused me pain.
I had a hysterectomy at thirty-nine. There were no clear warning signs such as irregular or diminishing periods. I noticed that my body temperature had increased over the years, but I wasn’t getting what I thought were hot flashes as such. My lady friends and I would all fan ourselves and say “ooh it’s the menopause” without really having too much of an idea of what was about to hit us.
I was advised that I could go into early menopause but wasn’t given any further information about it, nor did I care at the time, to be honest. I just wanted it all gone!
I recovered well and I thought no more about it, enjoying the freedom of no periods and the release from pain. Even though it was only fifteen years ago, menopause wasn’t talked about in the media like it is now. I knew that my mother had a terrible time with her mental health when she entered menopause, and although I could tell you so much about depression, I couldn’t tell you much else about menopause, apart from the hot flashes. My mother’s generation just didn’t talk about it, and I guess neither did the medical profession.
I was first diagnosed with having menopausal symptoms at the age of forty-seven. I’d been feeling a bit hot, especially at night. I had gone from someone who layered up and slept with hot water bottles and extra blankets, to someone who would sleep naked and have the window open, often waking because I was so hot and uncomfortable and needed to throw the cover off. But I still didn’t think too much about it.
I should mention here that I’ve suffered with my mental health since my mid-20s. It is reasonably well controlled and I have learned to live with it. I have noticed I always feel worse in the winter and do not pick up until springtime hits the UK in late March (This is known as SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder). Even though it’s not a pleasant feeling, I accept that my mood will lift again in time.
However, it was during a music festival that I attend every year that I had a “meltdown.” I was surrounded by my friends with music I loved, but I felt very strange and overwhelmed. I wasn’t comfortable, I couldn’t hold a conversation, and I just needed to escape. I went back to my hotel room and cried uncontrollably for hours. I knew it was time to tell my family and doctor and suspected I needed to take anti-depressants again.
When we returned home, I went straight to my doctor and told him how I felt, expecting to leave with a prescription. I was shocked when he said, “Actually I think you are going through menopause!” Even though my mother had suffered in the same way, it just hadn’t occurred to me that this may have been caused by “the change.”
Although he stated a blood test couldn’t always diagnose menopause due to the rapid fluctuation of hormones, he ordered one to rule out anything else and to check my hormone levels. Of course, my periods had finished eight years earlier when I had the hysterectomy. He sent me away with a ten-day course of a low-dose tranquilizer just to get me back on an even keel.
When I returned, he confirmed that I was indeed menopausal, and with my agreement, prescribed me a one mg estrogen-only HRT pill. (Most women are given estrogen and progesterone in their HRT, but those with no uterus only need the estrogen). I did question the link between HRT and breast cancer and he assured me that the increased risk was minimal, the benefits of taking HRT outweigh the risks, and that patients are more closely monitored now.
Very quickly I found the hot flashes and night sweats I’d been experiencing stopped. My mood elevated, and as I learned more about menopause, I found I had been experiencing other symptoms too:
- I’d been having extremely itchy skin. It felt like something was crawling underneath my skin.
- I’d been experiencing bloating and abdominal pain caused by food intolerences.
- I was suffering from muscular aches and joint pain.
- I had put on weight, and my body shape had changed; I no longer had a waist!
All these and more were symptoms of menopause, and HRT helped with some.
As the years went by, I began to notice some symptoms returning. My prescription was increased to two mg, which again worked. I still suffer with my mental health, more with anxiety rather than depression but HRT has helped.
You will notice that I have used the term menopause, rather than breaking it down to peri-, pre-, or post-menopause as they are relatively new terms used to describe the different stages. If you look at the official explanation for menopause—when a woman stops having periods—well, then that happened the day I had my hysterectomy!
I hope that sharing my story, might help other women out there decide what action they wish to take with their menopause.
Find out more information about HRT below:
- Hormone Therapy: Is It Right For You?
- Which Type of Estrogen Hormone Therapy Is Right For You?
- Long-Term Follow-Up Suggests Estrogen-Only and Combination Hormone Replacement Therapy Have Opposite Effects on Breast Cancer Risks
Jo is a freelance writer and blogger. She has written many articles for books, magazines and websites, as well as her own blog Tea and Cake for the Soul.
Jo talks openly about mental health and menopause believing that personal experiences can make other people feel less isolated and alone.
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Write for Navigating the Change.
Sometimes HRT really is the best choice. I was on it for five years, with no ill effects, and with a whole lot of benefits. I’m off it now, as I wasn’t sure I needed to stay on it for so long, but I also suffer from hot flashes at night again. Luckily, I no longer have them during the day. I really think every woman has to make the choice that is right for her own, personal situation.