When she began experiencing the odd hot flush in late 2019, Lorraine Thompson reluctantly accepted that this was simply the next stage of life.
"I was 49, the average age for menopause to start, so I thought: ‘Oh here we go!’ but I wasn’t too worried," says Lorraine, now 52 from Gloucestershire.
"My mother sailed through menopause and although my sister suffered hot flushes, she said they weren’t too bad. I hoped I would be the same".
Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. Within weeks of her first symptoms, the divorced mother-of-three was suffering up to 40 intensely hot flushes every day, affecting not only her physical but her mental health.
"It was horrendous," admits Lorraine, a cosmetic and medical tattooist. "I’d be tucked up in bed and suddenly a fire was burning up inside me and I’d be drenched in sweat, so I’d have to throw off the covers. Eventually I’d fall asleep and wake up cold because I was so damp. It began to affect my work because I’ve always worn PPE for hygiene reasons so I’d be working on a client and my forearms would be clammy and the plastic sleeve would stick to me. I’d have beads of sweat dripping down my face - not a great look when you’re trying to make someone feel at ease about their tattoo.
"As well as the sweats, I was having problems sleeping, I was constantly anxious and had brain fog where I struggled to remember things. Every day was getting more difficult. I’m also a single mum and although my three children are in their teens and early twenties, I’d still have to do the ‘mum things’ like cooking and washing when I returned home from work. I was exhausted and emotional."
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Like so many women, Lorraine was reluctant to visit her GP or try HRT, hoping she could just ‘get on with things’.
"My family has the BRCA2 gene which can cause breast cancer," she says. "The actress Angelina Jolie has it and she had a preventative mastectomy to stop any disease occurring. I wrongly thought that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) would raise my chances of cancer so I was adamant that I wouldn’t have it. Instead, I tried cutting out alcohol and caffeine and tried herbal supplements – but they made no difference."
Lorraine is not alone in avoiding help from the experts. On this – World Menopause Day – new research shows that 78 per cent of women say they did not take HRT or other treatments for symptoms and 58 per cent did not receive any help for their menopause.
Amongst those who do seek help from the NHS, many were unhappy with the treatment, with 46 per cent rating their experience with their GP as average or poor.
It was only after seeing a menopause documentary with TV star Davina McCall and talking to a colleague who was going through similar symptoms that Lorraine came around to the idea of trying HRT. "My colleague mentioned something about compounded bio-identical HRT, which is like a bespoke HRT treatment made especially for you," says Lorraine. "Your body doesn’t recognize it as foreign so it’s accepted more easily and she said it had fixed her problems.
"The Davina documentary also reassured me that the link to HRT and breast cancer was absolutely minimal. You have more chance of getting breast cancer if you’re overweight or drink too much wine. So I wanted to try it. The only problem was that this colleague had got her HRT from a private doctor in Scotland. But I was so desperate that at one point I was wondering if I could drive the seven hours to Scotland, just to get an appointment. Unfortunately we were in lockdown so it was impossible."
Thankfully, Lorraine discovered Online Menopause Centre founded by GP and menopause expert Dr Laila Kaikavoosi and booked an appointment. After the consultation, she was prescribed bio-identical HRT and her life was transformed.
"Within weeks 90 per cent of my symptoms were gone," says Lorraine. "I had to pay £150 for a private consultation and now I have to pay for my prescriptions but it was worth the investment. My hot flushes have stopped, I’m sleeping better, I feel less anxious. I’m taking my HRT in the form of a lozenge that simply melts in my mouth and will keep taking them for as long as I need. I want other women to know that they really don’t need to suffer with these symptoms and there is help out there".