Tonight’s documentary at 9pm on Channel 4, ‘Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause’ is a must watch. The misunderstanding, misinformation and lack of GP education on the menopause, and particularly perimenopause, which many women begin to experience the effects of in their late 30s, is leaving thousands dealing with debilitating and painful symptoms, and having to pay for private treatment.
I’ve now been diagnosed as being in perimenopause at 42, but this has taken a long wait to see a private specialist to get the treatment I require. The main symptom that led to my diagnosis along with diminishing periods that began to drop from every month, to every two months and then to every three months, was a UTI that began in April 2020. Due to undertreatment, it became chronic and embedded in the bladder. What I didn’t realise then was that I was becoming prone to these infections due to a lack of the hormone estrogen, which causes the urethra to thin, the beneficial bacteria in the vagina to disappear, and allows pathogenic bugs to flourish as the body becomes less able to fight off infection. There are now thousands of women suffering with similar infections, unable to access treatment, as the condition is badly misunderstood and virtually impossible to get dealt with on the NHS. As a result, I’m still dealing with it a year later, and again have only been able to access appropriate treatment and begin healing by going to a private specialist.
I had the usual response when I raised menopause as an issue with my GP. That I was too young, despite showing symptoms, having a family history of early menopause and having shown a low egg reserve in earlier testing during recurrent miscarriage. I was allowed an FSH test – but was even told these were unreliable as during perimenopause, hormones are constantly fluctuating. This came back as normal but as the GP had already acknowledged, could not be relied upon in diagnosis. When I was first dealing with debilitating UTI symptoms, it was even suggested that HIV might be a cause rather than considering menopause – absolutely crazy!
I’m now on the gold standard HRT treatment, which is a transdermal estrogen gel that is absorbed through the skin and applied every day, along with the body-identical form of progesterone, Utrogestan, which is taken as a pill at night during days 15-26 of my cycle. Women who still have their wombs need progesterone to balance out the estrogen and those who are still experiencing periods will take it as I do, during the second half of their cycle and then have a break and a bleed. I also use topical estrogen cream vaginally to help boost the tissue around and protect the urethra. Many women also need testosterone as part of their treatment, and this is not even licensed on the NHS yet.
The devastatingly inaccurate WHI study 20 years ago led to huge scare-mongering over HRT and the risk of breast cancer, meaning many women were and still are denied this treatment, had it withdrawn, or were told they must only be on it for a certain length of time, which is also incorrect – we wouldn’t wean diabetics off insulin, for instance. Women going through menopause are losing estrogen, which needs to be replaced to ensure women’s long-term health outcomes are improved, and protect them from heart disease, osteoporosis, vaginal atrophy and vascular dementia amongst other conditions. It is no joke that many women say it is easier to get heroin than HRT, and that they are being fobbed off with antidepressants and other inappropriate medication when presenting with menopausal symptoms, or left to suffer on their own.
Things must change and we must start education early so that women can take preventive action – over half the UK population are women and 100% will go through the menopause. We are being let down and we are angry. As more brave women start to speak up and raise awareness of this scandalous lack of knowledge and access to treatment, I hope things will improve and fast. Sit up and listen!
Sign the petition to #makemenopausematter here.