It’s been one whole year since I was diagnosed with premature menopause.
One whole year since I nervously entered a stranger’s office armed with a collection of blood results and a bunch of bizarre symptoms, and left with a diagnosis I didn’t fully understand.
Premature menopause, premature ovarian failure, primary ovarian insufficiency – my mind was swimming with information and terms I didn’t yet understand.
The official definition of premature menopause is when the final menstruation period occurs before a woman is 40. I had just turned 38 when I was diagnosed and I’d not had a period for more than a year.
More than a year of no period and dealing with a host of symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, memory loss, brain fog and a general sense of sadness. Symptoms I didn’t even realise were symptoms until my specialist put it all together. While I’d struggled to conceive in my early 30s as a result of a low ovarian reserve, premature menopause was never on my radar.
The diagnosis stung like a slap in the face. A powerful shock to my system that knocked me off my feet until reality set in. When reality set in, I cried. I cried and cried as I attempted to come to grips with the fact that I would not be having any more children. I cried because I suddenly felt like my ‘youth’ had been taken away from me. I was old before my time and all of a sudden no longer felt attractive to my husband.
A year on, these feelings come back to haunt me more often than I’d like. The one thing I do have under control though is my symptoms.
I’ve been able to kiss goodbye to hot flashes, most of the night sweats and some deeply personal symptoms that I’m too shy to share with you today.
Finding the right Hormone Replacement Therapy for me wasn’t easy and I often questioned if I’d be better off without it. I’d put up with my symptoms for so long, I may as well keep going, right? My specialist insisted however that as a woman who had experienced premature menopause I was at a greater risk of bone and heart disease. I needed HRT to protect me.
Finding the right medication was a nightmare. As I suffer from migraines with auras, the selection of medication I can choose from is limited. I was previously not permitted to take the pill, for example, because it would place me at risk of stroke.
So on I went testing various medications. The first was an absolute nightmare. It made me feel like I had stuck my head into an ant’s nest. My scalp was constantly burning and itching. The skin on my scalp would peel off in big bleeding chunks fueling my emotion. I was constantly itchy and felt like I was going crazy.
The second, fourth, fifth – I can’t remember how many I tried – didn’t seem to work either. I went through months where my emotions were up and down and all over the place. All the time my doctor would provide me with medication with higher hormone levels. I would often wonder how I even survived previously because my hormone levels must have been fairly low.
Just as I was about to give up thinking that heart disease was a better option, we found something that worked. I now wear skin patches a little more than 3 cm in diameter on my abdomen or backside 24 7 seven days a week.
They’ve become a way of life now (although I border on psychotic crazy when I can’t restock at certain pharmacies. It’s not your standard off the shelf medication) and have definitely reduced my symptoms.
The only complaint I have is the weight gain and change in body shape which I was told to expect. I now need to work a lot harder to keep the body I want. That’s not too much to ask I suppose – I’ll be sure to get onto that one of these days …
Premature menopause is surprisingly more common than you think with about 1 in 100 women being affected. This resource on premature menopause is helpful if you’d like to have read.
Have you experienced premature menopause or know anyone who has? How did they cope?