Recently, I found out that I’m perimenopausal, a diagnosis that at the age of 34 I’m still adjusting to. Yet, I feel such a sense of relief after living with apparently inexplicable symptoms for two years and finally getting to the bottom of what’s been going on! In that time I’ve had multiple blood tests, hormone tests, an abdominal scan and a transvaginal ultrasound. I’ve seen my GP numerous times and have also been referred to an endocrinologist. My GP recommended that I increase my SSRI dosage for PMDD (which I didn’t do) to treat my symptoms, and at one point I almost had a diagnosis of PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome).
Two years later, after battling with a myriad of symptoms including fatigue, low mood, dry sore eyes, irregular periods, oral thrush, palpitations and night sweats, a gynaecologist finally confirmed that low oestrogen is the culprit! It’s probably worth saying that this could have been detected two years earlier by the aforementioned endocrinologist, when my blood tests showed high testosterone. But, as is often the case, it was overlooked and nothing was done about it because “it was nothing to worry about”. At the time, I had no idea about the relationship between low oestrogen and high testosterone, otherwise I would have seen this as a red flag!
Now, the bizarre thing is I know about perimenopause and have known about it for quite a few years now. And yet, even though all the symptoms were pointing to it, I still didn’t put two and two together. I’m actually finding this the most difficult thing to deal with – I can’t understand why I didn’t make the connection?! Looking back, it was screamingly obvious. Was I in some kind of denial? Did I not think it could happen to me? Was I distracted by the wrong diagnosis of PCOS? Had I convinced myself that it was all in my head and that actually there was nothing physically wrong with me? Had I convinced myself that it was just my PMDD getting worse and that there probably was no other explanation?
It’s going to take a while for me to let go of the anger, frustration and blame I feel, mostly towards myself, for this.
And while I work on that, the reason I’m sharing this with you today is because I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I’ve been through. I don’t want any other woman to suffer needlessly because of incompetent healthcare or a lack of personal awareness of perimenopause.
So, my plea to anyone and everyone reading this is:
- Regardless of whether you’re 23 or 43, familiarise yourself with the signs and symptoms of perimenopause (see the image below) because it can happen at any time!
- Share this information with the women (and men!) in your life! Talk about it openly and let’s get everyone educated on perimenopause!
- Challenge the midlife menopause stereotype – 1 in 100 women go through menopause before the age of 40. Many women in the PMDD community will also experience chemical and surgical menopause, which are often left out of the conversation. Menopause, natural or otherwise, isn’t something that happens only to women in their 50’s or 60’s. Our choice of language, images and wider conversations around menopause all need to reflect that and we also have a personal responsibility to address any menopause misconceptions as and when they arise.
- Track your symptoms, whatever they may be. A paper diary is fine or check out Dr Louise Newson’s app Balance.
- Speak to your GP as soon as possible. Or, find a British Menopause Society approved menopause specialist here.
- Don’t rely on blood tests alone – they are not recommended for detecting perimenopause because of fluctuating hormone levels. instead, your GP should use your symptoms to diagnose perimenopause.
- The correct treatment for perimenopause is HRT (hormone replacement therapy) if you can take it and not antidepressants (which many GP’s wrongly prescribe). Read more on the recommended treatment options here.
- Listen to your body – you know when something is out of whack. Trust that and don’t give up until you’ve got to the bottom of it!
- Read, learn and reach out for support if you need it. There are some amazing organisations out there who are waiting with open arms to help you – please don’t suffer in silence. You are not alone in this. In fact, there are 13 million other women going through the menopause in the UK! I’ve popped some great websites below.
Together in Surgical Menopause: http://surgicalmenopause.co.uk/
The British Menopause Society: https://thebms.org.uk/
Women’s Health Concern: https://www.womens-health-concern.org/
The International Association for Premenstrual Disorders: https://iapmd.org/surgery
My Menopause Doctor: https://www.menopausedoctor.co.uk/
Menopause Support: https://menopausesupport.co.uk/