Life was hell but our GPs didnt believe we had started menopause in our 40s – The Sun

Posted: October 13, 2020 at 11:55 am

WILDLY fluctuating hormones mean hot flushes and zero desire for sex are often just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to The Change.

The menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 but symptoms can start years before periods stop a time of transition known as perimenopause.

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Subtle changes in mood or menstrual cycle, trouble sleeping and pain during sex can all be early signs.

Yet for many women, symptoms are mistaken for common illnesses. Ahead of next Sundays World Menopause Awareness Day, we speak to three women who were driven to despair in their forties by their misdiagnosed menopause.

SITTING on her bedroom floor sobbing, Jo Morcom told her husband Paul she wanted it all to stop.

The mother of three had convinced herself her family would be better off without her.

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For more than a year Jo, 46, had been back and forth to see her GP, complaining of migraines and terrifying loss of memory.

Looking back, she says: As time went on, I slowly turned into someone I barely recognised.

Yet, despite repeatedly asking if her hormones were to blame, Jo says she was dismissed. She was referred for a brain scan and when that was normal she was told it was just her chronic fatigue syndrome.

Eventually Paul, 51, booked an appointment. This time he went with Jo and they refused to leave the clinic until doctors agreed to give a blood test.

The results confirmed that Jo, who also lives with chronic fatigue syndrome, was undergoing the early stages of menopause.

Experts warn that many women similarly get an inaccurate diagnosis failures that cost the NHS millions of pounds in repeat appointments, while also ruining patients lives.

Dr Louise Newson, a GP and menopause specialist, says a survey of 5,000 women showed one in three had to wait at least three years before getting a diagnosis.

She says: I constantly hear from thousands of menopausal women how they are misdiagnosed with conditions such as fibromyalgia, migraines, depression, cystitis, IBS and chronic fatigue, when no healthcare professional has considered their menopause or perimenopause as the underlying cause of their symptoms.

There is currently no formal menopause training for doctors and nurses, she says a situation that must change.

Diane Danzebrink, a psychotherapist and menopause expert, echoed the call.

She says many women are forced to pay for costly private care, resorting to credit cards and loans to pay for help they should be getting on the NHS.

Ms Danzebrink says: Women are regularly told they are too young to be menopausal and this has to stop.

Doctors need to listen to women, who know their own bodies better than anyone, and stop telling them their symptoms are all in their heads.

"This is costing women their health and wellbeing, sometimes their jobs and relationships. And it costs the NHS a fortune in repeat appointments and referrals.

For Jo mum to daughters Helana, 24, and Cate, 16, and 12-year-old son Stanley the alarm bells started to ring months earlier, while heading to her home in Broxbourne, Herts, following a night out.

She had driven the route dozens of times before but that night she got completely lost.

For Jo, a personal assistant, memory loss was the latest addition to a long list of symptoms that had started to creep in five years previously. Debilitating migraines came first, followed by brain fog, joint pain and chronic fatigue.

Over the course of 13 months and numerous visits to her GP, Jo tried to convince the doc her symptoms were hormone-related.

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She says: When I couldnt find my way home that night, I knew there was something terribly wrong. I could have driven that route with my eyes shut.

I knew it so well, which is why it was terrifying.

Jo was 41 when she started to suffer horrendous migraines that floored her for days.

She says: I would get halfway to work then have to turn around and head home because I felt so ill.

My periods were irregular too, so it was in the back of my mind that it could all be linked. Over the following months, Jo made several further appointments with her GP. She was prescribed medication for the migraines and referred for an MRI scan.

Jo says: At no point did anyone ask me about my menstrual cycle and any other symptoms.

The scan checked for brain and pituitary tumours but when it came back normal, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Each time I tried to bring up the subject of hormones it was dismissed.

I couldnt sleep despite being exhausted, and my body ached all over. I looked and felt unwell.

I started looking at menopausal symptoms online and went back and forth to doctors trying to get them to listen. Time and again, each said I was too young.

Paul and the kids walked on eggshells around me. I knew I was being intolerant but I couldnt stop myself. I detached myself from family and friends, which was so unlike me.

I asked for blood tests to check my hormone levels but I was made to feel like I was time wasting and being dramatic.

Things came to a head the day Paul, a domestic appliance engineer, found Jo sobbing in the corner of their bedroom.

She says: I couldnt cope any longer and started thinking how much easier it would be for everyone if I wasnt around any more. I just wanted it all to stop.

After demanding her blood test, Jo finally had her answer.

My oestrogen and progesterone levels were completely out, she says. I felt angry that I had suffered for so long.

It should not have taken that long to get the right help. I had an idea all along.

I know my body better than anyone.

Since then Jo has switched GPs and she reckons her new doctor is fantastic.

She takes the gel form of HRT and an antidepressant, which has helped her get back on track.

She says: While I am relieved to finally get a diagnosis, things need to change.

Women shouldnt need to put up a fight to get help or be ashamed or embarrassed of the menopause.

Talking openly and honestly about it is so important.

WHEN Maria Rooneys doctor suggested she might be pregnant aged 46, Maria laughed.

The Nottingham social worker and mother of two had booked an appointment after her periods had become increasingly unpredictable.

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Shocked at the doctors suggestion, Maria, now 49, agreed to take a pregnancy test.

She says: I knew I couldnt be pregnant because I had the contraceptive implant and had lots of other symptoms.

I was constantly exhausted and extremely short-tempered. Until then I had been a good sleeper, but I laid awake most nights. I went from being a confident and happy person to feeling low and anxious.

She finally saw a doctor in February 2017. Her own mum had gone through early menopause meaning Maria recognised the signs in herself.

Even so, she says: I didnt believe it. I thought menopause happened to women in their fifties and sixties.

When the pregnancy test came back negative, I asked if I might be going through early menopause.

The doctor looked at me like I was being ridiculous. She said I was far too young for that.

Over the following year, Marias symptoms went from bad to worse.

She says: Id forget peoples names and had to leave a job I loved. Still, nobody could give me any answers.

Nobody was listening to me, which was really frustrating. I felt like I was falling apart.

I did my own research and took what I found back to my GP.

After 18 months, I was referred to an NHS menopause clinic and given HRT tablets.

Although Im still adjusting to the medication and trying to get the dosage right, I feel relieved Im on the right path.

When I look back now, I feel angry. I suffered for so long but all I wanted was for someone to listen.

Women need to stick up for themselves and if theres something wrong, they must be listened to.

WEIGHT gain, hot flushes and low moods left Vicki Leaver a nightmare to be around, she says.

Now 41, Vicki ticked almost every box for symptoms of perimenopause yet her GP offered her antidepressants, blaming her unhappiness on lockdown.

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The admin assistant, who lives in Perth with son Dylan, 18, and daughters Lily, six, and Jasmine, three, says: As soon as I turned 40, everything went wrong. It felt like an extreme case of PMT, but I was grumpy and snappy every day.

Feeling low and hopeless took over my life but I had no idea why I felt that way. Everyday tasks like dealing with a sink full of dirty dishes or an untidy house became too much.

Dylan took the brunt of my bad moods, which made me feel incredibly guilty. I once spent the entire school run crying.

Id wake in the night dripping in sweat and I struggled to hold a conversation because Id forget certain words.

Her periods changed too. Some months they were short and light. Other times, she would bleed so heavily she couldnt leave the house.

She continues: I made an appointment with my GP and broke down, explaining how I was feeling.

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But I got nowhere. I had blood tests that all came back normal, so I was prescribed the progesterone-only Pill to help with my heavy periods. The doctor suggested I was probably depressed because of lockdown and offered antidepressants.

But it was much more than just low moods and I wanted to get to the root of the problem, so I refused. I looked up perimenopause online and except for UTIs, which are common when hormone levels drop, I ticked almost every box.

Since January, I have talked to four different doctors and in June, I started HRT. Four months on, I feel like a different person. I wouldnt wish the last couple of years on anyone.

On Call with Dr Zoe

WHEN a woman will go through the menopause is largely predetermined before she is even born.

Thats because we are born with all our eggs. When they drop below a certain number, you are deemed to be in menopause. But how can you tell?

The best and first thing to do is speak to your mum. It is the biggest clue you have. If she went through it early, you are more likely to follow suit.

Its not an exact science but a good indication. The earlier you know, the better prepared you can be.

A good friend of mine, Zoe Hardman, recently shared her experience of facing the menopause at just 37 with Fabulous. It was only when her older sister discovered that she was menopausal aged just 34, while trying to get pregnant that they spoke to their mum and discovered that she had been through early menopause.

After openly talking about it she said she received so many messages from other women in similar situations, women who shared the shame they had felt.

No woman should feel any shame about facing menopause, whatever her age.

Its so important we all speak about it, to break the taboo and destigmatise something that is completely natural and happens to every woman.

Shame and stigma can be a barrier to women getting the right support and the right treatment. If you are under the age of 45 and start to notice you are suffering with symptoms you think are linked to menopause, it is really important you speak to your doctor.

Appointments with your GP are a partnership. We might have the knowledge but YOU know how you feel. You know when something is not right.

The important thing is to be straight with us. Dont just come in, describe your symptoms and leave it hanging. If you think you are suffering menopausal symptoms, tell us.

Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of perimenopause and menopause are very similar to lots of other common conditions that affect women in their late thirties and early forties.

Gut feeling

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Life was hell but our GPs didnt believe we had started menopause in our 40s - The Sun

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