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Mariella Frostrup menopause consultant: Just stay on the HRT

Written by Fiona

December 07 2018

It was refreshing to watch Mariella Frostrup’s BBC programme, The Truth About the Menopause. A previous programme, by Kirsty Wark, was a good introduction, but I thought that Mariella’s was more enlightening and personal.

Mariella has also written about How HRT gave her, her life back. At the age of around 50, she was suffering with anxiety issues and sleeplessness. After various health consultations, she was prescribed HRT.

I learned a little more about the menopause while watching the programme, although I already knew most of it. When I suffer with a health problem, I try to find out for myself what has gone wrong and how to try to fix it. I am curious – as well as being a huge researcher. I guess that is the nature of my brain and my work.

Mariella talked frankly about her menopause on the BBC programme.

Mariella is also a journalist so her mind is similar. She wanted to understand how the menopause affects women and what solutions there might be. Mariella, living in London and presumably with more money than me, also has access to a private consultant.

Among a few surprises, the big one was that her private consultant recommended that she stay on HRT after the recommended five years. I am sure I heard her saying this.

I can also remember interviewing a Scottish author and presenter last year, who also told me that she was never coming off HRT. She is 60. And a journalist friend, also in her 60s said she had been taking HRT for almost 15 years.

When people ask me how long I have been on HRT (two years) and when I plan to stop, I usually say never. I am only partly joking because I am worried about how I will be without the HRT.

I have heard two versions of what it’s like to stop HRT: One is that you return to the menopause with full-on symptoms, while the other information is that because you have already been progressing through the menopause years by the time you stop the HRT (after three to five years) the previous full-on symptoms are lessened (for many women).

Just now, I prefer to take the risks of the HRT (a slight increase of breast cancer) for the benefits of the treatment. The programme also supported the research I’d read before that people who are overweight have a greater increase of breast cancer than people who take HRT. That puts things into perspective for me. I am not dismissing the risks, but I do look at them balanced with the benefits.

I was very surprised that Mariella’s consultant appeared to suggest it’s fine to keep taking HRT after the recommended three to five years and part of me questioned whether it was in her interests to do so because she would continue to collect patient fees from Mariella. Cynic, moi?!

What worries me is that many people on HRT are taking it for major reasons. The BBC programme might give them the false belief that it’s fine to keep taking the HRT past the five-year mark but I am led to believe that the longer you stay on the HRT the greater the side effect risks of breast cancer. I would have expected Mariella to have questioned this, to be honest.

For me, the benefits of HRT have included: Fewer hot sweats; better sleep; the disappearance of cramps in my feet, calves, shoulders and hands; improved mood; reduction of itchy skin; fewer migraines; and fewer urinary infections.

There are times when the HRT doesn’t appear to be working as well as it did at the start but this is due to naturally fluctuating hormone levels. However, on the whole, I think my symptoms are improved by HRT.

Read Some of things I have learned about the menopause.

Also have a read of a friend’s blog: 50sense.

Some of the Truth about the Menopause

An hour TV programme can never cover all topics of one medical condition, especially something like the menopause because it affects every woman in a different way.

We were shown some extreme symptoms, such as the woman who suffered up to 30 hot sweats a day. A trial drug did relieve her symptoms but she was only able to take that during the trial and will have to wait many years for it to be potentially available through prescription.

There was mention that she had tried all sorts of remedies, although there was nothing about the use of anti-depressants to relieve hot sweat symptoms. I know this can work because a couple of friends take anti-depressants for this.

The topic of vaginal dryness was touched on but the associated increase in urinary infections was not. Dryness during sex as well as a thinning of internal membranes can lead to repeated urinary infections. Again. I have heard this from several people who are going through the menopause.

Another topic that wasn’t mentioned was cramps. It was severe cramps, mostly at night, in my feet and calves that led me to researching menopause symptoms and then to HRT.  They had started to worsen and were affecting muscles in my hands, shoulders and hamstrings, which led to a reduction in my exercise. HRT has almost completely eliminated the cramps.

However, on the whole, I thought The Truth about the Menopause was an insightful programme and well worth viewing on iplayer if you are interested. It’s worth watching it if you’re a guy living with someone who is struggling with the menopause, as well as a woman.

Some things I was interested in finding out more about include CBT for the relief of menopause symptoms; why fewer Japanese women suffer with menopause symptoms (although it could be that their culture stops them being so open about talking about the issues); and the possibility of seeing a menopause specialist rather than simply a GP (while my G has been great I do wonder if there is more expertise I could be benefitting from).

The programme also suggested that it’s good to talk about the menopause. I whole-heartedly agree. Which is why I have been blogging about this topic for a while.

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