Being a woman is a bit weird at times. We are the gender that gives birth to the next generation and we have all this complicated plumbing to enable us to give the miracle of life. To the men who are brave enough to read on, hopefully I’ve written this is such a way that you won’t be left feeling “yucky” and might give your wife, sister, mother or female co-workers a little consideration!
I am not alone:
The importance of the menopause can best be comprehended when it is realised that there are over 2 million post-menopausal women in Australia, and that every year about 80,000 new women join this group.
These women constitute 40% of all health care visits in Australia.
The female journey starts off around the time we become a teenager (which seems to be getting younger and younger). We develop breasts and grow hair in places we’re not used to having hair and worst of all we start menstruating. Yuck! Most of us, aside from brief respite periods (no pun intended) due to pregnancy, put up with the monthly inconvenience for forty plus years. A man did once say to me, “Don’t know what you women are complaining about, men have to shave every day.” I didn’t get it then and I don’t get it now, but that was his view on life.
So we put up with this for forty or so years and then if we are unlucky, the plumbing starts to get a bit rusty. Maybe we get fibroids, a prolapse, clotting, etc etc etc. The list of possible issues is quite long!
In my own case, I ended up with fibroids and a few related issues, included a “bulky” (medical term) uterus. A gynaecologist thought it might be a great idea to pop a Merina IUD in the uterus to shrink it. Would solve all my problems he said. To cut a very long story short, the first Merina perferated the uterine wall and ended up embedded near my liver. His solution? Oh, I’ll take that one out and put another in where it should be. He sheepishly advised afterwards he couldn’t find the old one, so I now had TWO. Having a second one in gave me horrific side effects and I demanded to see a second specialist who whipped out the second IUD and recommended a hysterectomy. This was on a Thursday back in 2008. I asked, “When?”
J replied, “I can fit you in Monday”.
All went beautifully and J found the errant IUD and removed it as well. Left my ovaries behind, thankfully, meaning female hormone production would continue.
Life went on very nicely, thanks!
In 2009 I had to have adhesions (scar tissue resulting from the abdominal surgery) rectified and the adhesions had mangled (that’s a medical term, I’ll have you know) my right ovary, so I said goodbye to it and was down to one hormone producing ovary.
Roll forward to 2013 and I am thinking, quite happily, that I must have managed to sail through menopause with nary a whimper. I’d had no symptoms to speak of, I was never dripping in sweat, I had a few extra issues with joints and stuff and seemed to be suffering problems with my short-term memory and in meetings I would get the odd mental block on words. All of this I just put down to getting older.
However, the short-term memory loss and the mental blocks started to get worse and given I still work full-time, this was not a good thing. I need my brain.
About three months ago I started to experience the odd hot flush. Then they became more frequent. Hmmmmmm, I thought to myself, somehow I don’t think I sailed through this change of life thing at all.
I did a little research. Just what were symptoms of menopause? Just about everything you can name, including a befuddled brain and sleep disturbance! Right, that was it, I need my brain. Not only for work but for trying to remember the million and one things I need to remember for the kids all the time. Swimming sports Monday Mum, I need $10. School fete tomorrow. Remember to pay the tennis club. Footy training. Download the Lexia software. On and on it goes.
I read a lot of conflicting information. For example, one article told me women put on weight as the body tries to use fat cells to produce estrogen. Another article contradicted this totally, saying the body stores fat differently after estrogen production ceases.
I duly made an appointment with J to see what could be done. I wasn’t really all that keen on the idea of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). There was a huge furore about health risks related to HRT a few years ago. A couple of years later I’d also read it seemed there had perhaps been unnecessary panic, but even so I wasn’t really keen on taking “stuff” unless I needed to.
We went through the checklist. Yes, there IS a checklist. If you score over 15, you are a candidate for HRT. I scored 26 (or J stopped adding up when she got to 26). Things I had never thought of being related to menopause are related. Like waking up at 2 am every damn morning. I remembered a past co-worker complaining about that, she used it as her ironing time! I wasn’t so keen on that idea. J and I discussed over-the-counter or natural remedies, but I had already tried one which I didn’t feel had helped the sleep disturbance or the brain.
J shared the fact the mental alertness had been the driver for her too. She had found herself typing medical reports and would get the same mental blocks I was getting. I was sitting in her office and couldn’t remember the word “adhesions”. Arrgggghhhhhhh!!! We discussed the HRT risks which I am not going to discuss here because they will be different for different people and clearly each person should discuss their own situation with their specialist. In my particular case, if it was good enough for my specialist, it was good enough for me! I wanted my brain back, my sleep back and getting rid of a few of the other symptoms wasn’t going to be a bad thing either!
MHT is the most effective treatment for symptoms related to the hormonal changes of menopause, such as hot flushes and sleep deprivation. MHT is also beneficial for bone health and may decrease mortality and cardiovascular disease
Risks associated with MHT are acknowledged, but benefits derived from MHT will generally outweigh the risks for women under 60, or within 10 years of the menopause. The risks are generally small.
Taking MHT is a decision which needs to be individualised, according to a women’s symptoms, and her individual health status (such as age, time since menopause, family history, general health, has she had a hysterectomy or not, and other personal risk factors). This decision should be taken in consultation with a suitably qualified physician.
Given I have no uterus, I only need one hormone, estrogen, not two, which reduces the health risks.
Discussing the situation with a co-worker, she asked, “How much is it going to cost?” Oh, crap, I thought, I hadn’t even considered that. I noticed the PBS indicator was crossed off on the prescription and had a horrible thought it might cost $100 a month or something. That would definitely be a no-no, the budget just would not stretch that far.
I went to our local Chemist Warehouse, who promise to be cheaper than everyone else. I had recently saved $11 on an anti-biotic prescription there, so I figured that was the place to go. Gingerly I asked how much. $14.95 for a month! Yippee! That I could afford!
The estrogen is delivered via a patch. Two patches a week, swapping from side to side each time. The patches have to be applied very carefully in order to not compromise the adhesive qualities with oil off your fingers. My first patch didn’t last the full term, it fell off yesterday at work and would not re-attach for love nor money. However I had planned to change it this morning anyway. Lesson learnt though – carry a spare in case one falls off.
I asked J how long before I would feel any improvement and was advised 48 hours. WOW! That seemed fast to me! Thursday night, which was 48 hours after slapping on the first patch, I slept like a baby! It was wonderful! I’ve managed to remember the word adhesions several times too! The real test will come in the work environment: will the mental blocks in meetings stop? At home, will I remember Mr O Jnr 2 needs $10 on Monday? We shall see, but so far, so good.
I believe I detected improvements within five hours, but of course I can’t prove that. It seems logical to me that some improvements will happen faster than others.
Realistically, in the “old days” the population didn’t live long enough in many cases to even go through menopause. Later, yes, we started living longer, but women were sitting at home and didn’t have a job and young kids to keep up with. If J and I were happy to retire, probably we’d be perfectly OK!
Now life is different. We are working, we have children later in life (or become step-mothers to young children as I did), we expect to be able to function as if we are still in our thirties, well past our thirties. I also have a younger husband, not a minor consideration in all of this! That is all I am saying on that aspect of this topic.
I’ve spoken to a few other women, all of whom are saying “Oh, no, I’m OK” but then list a litany of symptoms. I said nothing more than “That was on the checklist”. Like me, they had been putting such things down to “getting older”.
In closing, I want to make it very clear I am NOT recommending HRT (or MRT as the other TLA) for anyone. I am suggesting women not suffer in silence or just blame everything on “getting older”. It is my experience that some of the symptoms creep up on you, such as the befuddled brain, and you don’t really notice at first. The one symptom I can say didn’t creep up was the hot flushes. One minute I had virtually none, the next minute I had lots! Each woman’s situation will be unique, as will their medical history and care requirements.
To the men reading this, please be supportive and aware that the women in your life may be experiencing menopause and may not even have thought about it. They need your love and support, maybe even a little hand-holding to consult their doctor.
Menopause is a natural part of the life of all women. It can be a mere annoyance or quite debilitating and anywhere in between. There can be fallout for the rest of the family.
I’ll publish an update in a month or two, when I’ve had longer to assess the improvements or otherwise! Madame Menopause is also writing about her experiences, so you might like to pay her a visit!