Susie, 54, lives in Sussex with her husband Geoff, 53, and has 2 children in their 20s. Here, she shares how she eventually got the treatment she needed for her menopause symptoms
‘I felt so angry – it was like a red mist would come down’
I was approaching 50 when I started to have symptoms of what I now know to be the perimenopause [the lead-up to menopause]. I had terrible heavy bleeding, PMS-type symptoms and really awful night sweats. I didn’t know what had hit me.
The worst thing was how angry I became. I would completely overreact and snap at Geoff – it was like a red mist would come down. But that was just the beginning…
‘I was sleep deprived and anxious, with no sex drive’
After that, lack of sleep began to affect my daytime energy levels. I also had a lot of anxiety – I was worrying about ridiculous, worst-case scenarios that might happen to me and members of my family. I would catastrophise about any situation. If I went for a walk, I’d worry that I’d fall and break my neck; if I was driving, I’d be convinced we’d have a fatal crash. It was all completely out of character for me.
I’d also wake up in the morning feeling stiff and achy. At the time, I just thought it was my age, and that I’d have to get used to these sorts of aches and pains in my muscles and joints as I got older. I didn’t connect it with the menopause.
‘I felt I just had to soldier on’
At one point, I told the nurse who was doing my routine smear test how awful the menopause was making me feel, thinking she might suggest something. But she just shrugged and said how awful it was. This left me feeling that I just had to soldier on – so I did.
Then about 4 years ago I went to my GP to ask for help, and ended up sobbing in the consulting room. She ran some tests on my hormone levels, but was told they had come back fine and there was no follow-up. I didn’t pursue it as I thought there wasn’t any point.
When my periods eventually stopped in 2020, I hoped the other symptoms would go away. But the monthly bleeds were the only things that disappeared – everything else carried on.
However, I confided in a friend about how I was feeling, and she told me she’d felt exactly the same – but she’d then started hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and it had been transformative for her. She told me which preparation she was on and suggested I ask my GP for the same thing: an oestrogen gel and a progesterone tablet.
‘Don’t give up if you’re asking for HRT’
Hearing my friend’s positive experience with HRT spurred me on to go to my doctor. It made me feel relieved that I wasn’t alone, and I didn’t have to soldier on with all these symptoms.
I went back to my GP in early 2021 to ask about HRT, but she was quite old-school in her approach. She gave me a talk about the benefits versus the risks – emphasising the risk of breast cancer, and not admitting that there were many benefits. She did agree to prescribe me one of the older types of HRT. But I talked about it with a friend who’s a GP, who suggested I go back and ask for the oestrogen gel and progesterone tablet.
This time, my GP said she would ask a consultant what they would recommend for me. And after doing so, she agreed to prescribe me the oestrogen gel and progesterone tablet in February 2021.
‘HRT was like a miracle’
I’m someone who always tends to feel better when I start taking something that I believe is going to help me – such as vitamin C or another supplement. But with HRT, it really was like a switch had been flicked, and I found I was bouncing around the room full of energy again.
It was like a miracle. Within a matter of days, I could sleep, I wasn’t moody and liked my husband again, my vaginal dryness stopped and I got my sex drive back. I felt less anxious and I didn’t have aches and pains – it felt like someone had taken 25 years off me. I couldn’t believe all my symptoms were so easily fixed.
I’ve felt so good on HRT for the past 10 months. But I could probably have benefited from it in the 3 to 4 years before it was prescribed for me.
‘GPs and women need good information about HRT’
I think there needs to be a lot more education about the benefits of HRT, both for GPs and the general public. Yes, there is a risk of breast cancer. But it’s small, and you have to quantify those risks with your health history, and balance them against the improvements in quality of life and the longer-term health benefits of HRT, such as protection against the weak-bone condition osteoporosis.
‘HRT can help with low mood’
Ever since I started on HRT, I’ve become passionate about spreading the word to friends who are my age and going through the same thing.
Quite a few of the people I’ve spoken to have said they were prescribed antidepressants for their low mood, which only started around the menopause. I’ve suggested that their mood swings and anxiety may have been caused by their hormones.
I’d say it’s definitely worth having that discussion with your doctor. I just don’t think many people realise how wide-ranging the effects of the menopause can be, and how it can cause so many different symptoms.
‘My top tips for women going through the menopause’
My advice to anyone who’s having the same symptoms is to do your own research and talk to your doctor about all the treatment options. Be persistent and specific about what you want, and challenge them with evidence if necessary.
Talk to friends of a similar age, too, and ask them what worked for them. I found that really helpful, not only for picking up good advice, but also for getting support and realising I wasn’t alone in what I was going through. You don’t have to struggle with symptoms for years like I did.