Before I attempt any more words, I want to start by saying this is just one, individual story. I’m not a medical professional or expert in any way but having spent the last two decades dealing with several long term conditions, including gynaecological problems, and so I feel able to speak about issues which affect so many women. It is in no way a substitute for medical advice, but perhaps it may prompt you to seek help if you feel you need it.
I am heading towards 52, and have never had children. I first approached my GP nearly two decades ago about painful periods.
I had been taking the contraceptive pill for many years, which I felt were ‘masking’ them in some way, and was told to be patient, and that my body was just readjusting.
It never readjusted. Eventually, in 2016, my family paid for me to have some scans done privately, and an NHS consultant agreed that I should have a laparoscopy. Finally, after fifteen years, I got a diagnosis of endometriosis.
Having struggled with that before, and since, I was then told that the menopause would ‘solve’ my endometriosis. In the plainest of terms, when my periods stopped, the endo would be over.
I have since realised it’s not that simple but I’m here to talk about the ‘bit in the middle’ or what we now know as the perimenopause. How was I going to negotiate the pain and mental stress caused by endometriosis, and then these new symptoms such as hot flushes, low mood and memory problems?
As the wonderful, late Victoria Wood once described in her last Albert Hall show, when she had PMS heading one way and the menopause meeting it at the other end, she only had 17 minutes left in any given month when she was fully cogent.
I am lucky enough to be under the care of an endometriosis clinic and during my last telephone meeting, it was the consultant who brought up the subject of HRT.
I was always under the impression that HRT was a no-no for women with an endometriosis diagnosis, in that it would exacerbate the condition. However, after a chat with him, and then my own further research, I was glad to know it was at least an option.
There is a lot of information out there about the menopause right now. It’s on daytime TV as much as interior storage solutions, fashion pieces on looking good at any age, and recipes that I have never been able to master.
However, one particular segment introduced me to someone who has become a source of helpful, relevant and experience-based medical advice: Dr. Louise Newson, or as she’s known on her socials, The Menopause Doctor.
Louise is a GP, and a highly-recognised menopause specialist, who takes the subject really seriously, but her approach manages to be empathetic and no-nonsense at the same time.
As well as being a published author and part of the website which has become my cornerstone, she is also the founder of Newson Health, which has a series of menopause and wellbeing clinics which specialise in evidence-based and holistic care. Sadly, at this time, they are private clinics and not available on the NHS - that’s another subject I’m passionate about, but will park my personal feelings about it here.
However, the information on Louise’s website is free for us all to access, and it was the recommended app, called ‘balance’ which has really changed my world. It enables you to track your symptoms, access personalised expert content, and share your journey with others.
If you are looking to access help via the NHS, you need to keep a record of how your symptoms are affecting you, and this is a no-fuss way of doing it. You really need to be your own health advocate, and keep plugging away when it comes to accessing care.
The website also covers so many aspects of the menopause, and I personally found the information about HRT and endometriosis to be really helpful. Her podcast also kept me informed: her discussion with endo specialist Chris Mann really provided me with much food for thought.
After that initial chat with the consultant, I took some time to make my decision. In the meantime, I started my journey with Elle Sera, as I wanted to see how it could work for me before I introduced HRT into the mix.
I’m not an influencer, by the way, I am a customer, but I really wanted to try something that I feel could help me along the way. The Elle Sera team, headed up by Elissa Corrigan, also knew that I have several long term conditions to deal with, so I wasn’t looking for a miracle cure for any of them.
The first thing I was able to report was improved sleep. I am a light sleeper by anyone’s standards, and also live with chronic pain, so it’s been a long time since I got a solid eight hours’ worth of rest.
However, within the first month, I noticed that my sleep had definitely improved. As good quality sleep is the foundation for improving your health, this one its own was worth the subscription for me.
In terms of HRT, I was prescribed a really low level of oestrogen, in the form of a gel which I apply every evening, along with a progesterone tablet, which I take for a prescribed number of days, with a break added in.
These are bioidentical, which means they have the same chemical structure as the hormones that your own body makes, and are less likely to cause adverse reactions. However, I have to say I was terrified at first. I’m one of those people who seems to encounter side effects whenever medications enter my system, but I was pleasantly surprised, as I have encountered few. My skin has been a little more reactive, but it seems a small price to pay.
I am just two months into my HRT journey and am aware it can be three months until longer term benefits become visible. However, I am just so pleased that my hot flushes have disappeared altogether.
They were becoming really distressing for me: whatever the media says in jest, they are no joke. What I am really interested in are the long term of benefits of HRT, which Dr. Newson is passionate about in every aspect of her work. As she herself states, around 75 percent of menopausal women experience symptoms, and one third of them describe them as severe.
For the future, it’s really important to consider issues like bone health and density, mobility, brain function and of course, libido, which shouldn’t be the last on anyone’s list. It really counts.
Like many women, I grew up hearing the scare stories around HRT. All I know is that they put my own mum off taking them, and she did suffer as a result of not getting help.
Of course, HRT is not for everyone. It’s a personal as well as a medical choice, but Louise is wonderful at explaining why it is a safe and considered option for so many of us. The more informed you are, the better your chances of working out what works for you.
Your GP will always be your first port of call, and having personalised records like the ones you can chart on Louise’s app, means you can enter any appointment armed with facts as well as feelings.
This time last year, I have to admit I was feeling pretty hopeless. Adding menopausal symptoms to endometriosis, other health concerns and the constant daily news about Covid-19 all added together to leave me feeling overwhelmed, worried and isolated.
However, I have realised that stepping out of my comfort zone, doing my own research, and taking the HRT leap, after starting my Elle Sera journey, was the best way of getting out of that particular trench.
If you feel you are perimenopausal and don’t know where to start, the ‘balance’ app is a great place to begin. Look up Dr. Louise Newson via her socials and her website, and you will certainly find factsheets, videos and articles that will help you.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, which I really appreciate. As we start to come out of lockdown, it definitely feels like a great time to grasp the reigns of your own health.
Once you have more information to hand, and your own personal records and notes, all you have to do is get past the GP receptionist. If you can get that far, you’re already winning.
Until next time.
You can read more from Dr. Louise Newson and access the ‘balance’ app at www.menopausedoctor.co.uk
The above article is a personal story. For medical-based advice, guidance and a discussion around medications and supplements, talk to your GP and/or your specialist.