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Sarah Vine: The menopause diary - to HRT or not to HRT?

November 29th 2015 / Sarah Vine Google+ Sarah Vine / 4 comments

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In the second installment of her diary, Sarah Vine makes a decision on hormone replacement therapy with a little help from the experts

A few days after the blood results, when the dust has settled, my husband and I discuss HRT. I have already spoken to my vitamin guru, Shabir at Victoria Health. I am taking Sage Complex and something for my cholesterol which, uncharacteristically, is slightly raised.

We both agree that an expert opinion is required, so I make an appointment to see Katy Clifford, my gynaecologist for the past few years. I love Katy: she’s quick, efficient and extremely direct, while at the same time being a very nice person. And then I go away with the kids for half term.

I return a week later feeling rested (having slept like a tot all week), and with my symptoms somewhat abated. I guess doing little or nothing when you’re trying to manage throbbing headaches, exhaustion, loss of appetite and the wrong kind of hotness is a good thing.

The break has also helped me make my mind up about HRT: there is no way I can carry on working, looking after children and generally keeping up the pace of life in the Gove/Vine household while feeling this ill.

In short, I am not ready to slow down. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t afford to. I’m just not at that stage of my life - nor, to be frank, will I be so for at least another two decades. I need to keep going, and I can’t do that if I’m fighting these really quite debilitating symptoms.

So by the time I sit down with Katy, I don’t need much persuading. But when she tells me, with great excitement, that the following day NICE would be issuing new advice positively encouraging doctors to prescribe HRT, my mind is made up: I will start immediately.

Katy being Katy, she gives me a whistlestop tour of the science. Since I am so young, and below the average age for the menopause, HRT for the next few years will only be bringing me back in line with most of the female population. In other words, a zero sum game.

Thereafter, we will review the situation. The important thing is not to prescribe blind: we will need to weigh up the pros and cons in the light of my own personal health. But broadly speaking, the advantages, as we now know, outweigh the disadvantages, especially in ‘younger’ women such as myself.

Crucially, HRT protects bone health, can guard against colon cancer and the oestrogen helps keep the hearth healthy. The risk to breast cancer is there; but it is a far lower risk than the others. Katy’s view is that we can safeguard against that with vital breast screening - and that, once again, sooner rather than later is better.

The NHS offers free screening to all women over the age of 50; I will be having my first one in a few weeks' time, and investing £170 a year thereafter in having private screening until I’m old enough to get it on the NHS. It will be money well spent.

And now to the big question: does it work? Well, it’s too early to say. I’ve only been taking oestrogen, in gel form, for five days. But already my energy levels are creeping up again. I’m not falling asleep at my desk. And the muscle aches have subsided.

I am, however, still prone to overheating; my winter coats hang unused in my wardrobe, even in this weather. And the irritability hasn’t subsided. If anything, it seems to be getting bit worse…

What are your experiences of HRT and the menopause? Let us know in the comments or tweet @SarahVine and @GetTheGloss

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  • Angela Davies
  • December 1st 2015

I am 52 and can honestly say that, yes I have the odd hot flush and a little bit of 'mental fog' (never was a feeling so aptly summed up!!) but I have not felt the need to see a doctor, get blood tests or start taking drugs or supplements. I am sure that all your readers will appreciate that everyone's experience is different and is their own; but it seems to me that the only women who write about menopause are the ones suffering quite badly. Please don't let women have to dread this experience when they might well sail through it with few if any symptoms.

  • Sylvia Parry
  • November 30th 2015

I have had breast cancer twice now so sadly HRT is most definitely off the agenda for me, as are many of the 'natural' remedies, such as sage. Whilst I have sympathy for sarah and others going through the menopause, spare a thought for those of us going through a chemically induced menopause at age 40 with a normal menopause to look forward to in the future, all without the benefit of alleviated symptoms. On the plus side, I haven't had to buy a winter coat this year, nor put the central heating on just yet.

  • Fiona Knight
  • November 29th 2015

HRT has definitely helped, most noticeably with my sleep. I have a lot less waking up at 3am with random anxious thoughts. I did a lot of research into pros and cons and at the end of the day came to the conclusion that my many menopausal symptoms were as debilitating as any other kind of illness and deserved to be treated medically. I'm sure no one would choose the drug path willingly, but tinkering at the edges with natural alternatives sadly just wasn't cutting it with me...

  • Lucy T
  • November 29th 2015

Thank you for posting your experiences.

It is something that came out of the blue for me, I'm now 41 and I reckon this started about a year after I had my daughter, i.e. when I was about 38, i just put it down to raising 2 small kids, never in a million years thought that my hormone levels had plummeted to nearly zero. I would definately reccomend HRT but it can take a while to find the right one. It was a rocky road and at times made my mood a lot worse, but now I have found the right tablets for me, I feel a million times better. I just wish that there had been more awareness of this, and I may have been alot happier, alot sooner! There is a really small charity, The Daisy Network that provides information on early menopause. I did have a bit of a "I feel so old" moment, but that quickly passed and I just see it as taking supplements in a way. I cannot afford private health care, so the lack of screening does worry me, but I guess the benefits outweigh the risks.

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