I’ve been sticking patches on my bum for a year now and it has been an interesting and enlightening 12-months.
HRT, as stated on the NHS website, is a treatment to relieve symptoms of the menopause. The symptoms are vast and different for everyone. Eighteen months ago, aged nearly 46, I noticed that my periods were getting closer. I had what I call perma-PMS, I felt like my figure was changing (the word squashy springs to mind), I had baby-brain (oh look my cup of tea is in the fridge!), I was lethargic, my boobs hurt and I felt annoyed and angry a lot of the time. After 30+ years of periods, I was used to having pre-menstrual symptoms each month – I always suffered quite badly; very emotional, moody, anxious and bloated – and so when the PMS was 24/7 it started to worry me. Then I realised! I was peri-menopausal, still am.
Now I don’t know about you, but for me the idea that I was entering into the menopausal phase of my life, was unbelievable. Me! menopausal? Surely not. Just three years after having my son, I was being catapulted into middleagedom (I know that’s not a word) without choice. What threw me the most, was the lack of control over what was happening to my body and also, my mind. Looking back, I have clarity, but at the time I felt like I changed rapidly and there was nothing I could do about it.
My GP, a female, was great and listened to my experience with compassion and interest. During a 20-min phone call I explained my symptoms and we discussed the options. I had a blood test which came back okay – this was to check hormones (which she stated was impossible via a one-off blood test), and to check other hormone levels in my body – just to make sure the symptoms weren’t due to a thyroid issue, for example. Prescription issued – which I ran home with – and I started on 25-mg oestrogen patches and progesterone tablets. This method is called combined HRT / sequential HRT.
TOP TIP: Do not take everything the minute you rip the boxes open, like I did. Desperate to feel better, I stuck a patch on* and started taking the progesterone that night. Wrong thing to do. I naively thought starting HRT was like starting the pill – when you can trick your body into a new cycle. The result of my not waiting to take the treatment, was 2-days in bed. I felt awful – nauseous, thumping headache, the room was spinning and I was sweating. Make sure your read the label (how to take as directed by your GP) before you start your treatment. Don’t do a Lucy Baker!
Once I had settled into the right routine – a new patch every Tuesday and Friday and progesterone for half of the month – (read more about HRT here on My Menopause Centre) – I was starting to feel better. After 6-weeks, I felt calmer, less ragey, more in control, my energy levels increased and my body started to feel like mine again. Every three months my GP and I had a review which resulted in my patches being upped, in stages, from 25-mg to 100-mg – which I am told is top level. Nothing weird has happened to me since I have been using HRT and I have had no adverse side-effects and my symptoms, for now, are under control. I have a monthly period, which is apparently fake, but it is manageable and I don’t feel like I am losing my mind before it starts. The only thing that I struggle with is remembering to change my patch, running out of meds and having to remember to message my doctor for a new lot, and I found the timings of the progesterone a little awkward at first. I use my outlook online calendar to mark my ON day, my patch-change days and the days that I take progesterone tablets. It was a bit of a fiddle to start with, but with patience and practice it starts to become the new normal. Yikes! – I am 47 and HRT is my new normal.
I often wonder what would happen if I stopped the patches, would my periods still be there? Would the symptoms return ten times worse? I have discussed this with my GP and she said it is not advisable! Agreed – but I’d like to know. Next time I speak to her, I am going to ask how long I will stay on HRT for, I have read one needs to continue therapy up to age 55, but surely every woman is different. I’ll ask.
My advice to anyone navigating through peri-menopause would be to be as honest and open with your GP as you can, as well as the people your life. In the past, women didn’t talk about this natural transition and were expected to suffer in silence. It is laughable that it used to be referred to as ‘the change’ and mouthed as if it was exposing someone’s deepest darkest secret – (whispered) “she’s going through the change”. Things have moved on, the menopause is being talked about in the workplace and some organisations have even got a menopause policy in place – wahhoooo – but there is still a way to go. 51% of the population will go through the menopause and as stated in this House of Commons Committee report , it is a normal, natural and inevitable part of ageing.
So let’s talk about it. Talk about it with family, friends, colleagues, employers, lovers, teachers, children – everyone! – so that women no longer have to suffer in silence and those around them understand.
‘Menopause has been ignored and hidden away for too long. There is nothing shameful about women’s health, or about getting older. Supporting those experiencing menopause makes sense for individuals, for the economy and for society’. Menopause and the workplace report summary July 2022
(The government response to the House of Commons Commitee Report is here)
I’d love to hear about how you feel about the menopause, your views on HRT or anything you’d like to share about peri-menopuase / menopause. Drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org
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*I alternate where I stick the oestrogen patch between my bum-cheek and where I imagine my ovaries are. I prefer the front of my body (ovary area) because the patch sits beneath my underwear and can’t be seen. The bum-cheek area is ore visible and the clear patch often leaves a sticky mark (fluff from clothes) which can only be removed using baby-oil – not the end of the world, but quite annoying.
You might be interested to read more about how my peri-menopause has clashed with my daughter’s puberty on My Menopause Centre. Read here