Around my 48th birthday, I started having vague symptoms. As if I constantly had the flu: skin pain, dizziness and a ringing in my ears. At first, I got cooperation from the GP. The neurologist and the ENT doctor carried out various exams. I had an operation on my ear, but the symptoms got worse. I stopped taking the contraceptive pill to see if I was menopausal, but I did not have the typical menopause symptoms such as sweating and hot flushes. Around my fiftieth, I collapsed. My senses stopped working: my vision became blurred, and I could no longer hear properly. I became sombre and had no energy.
I visited a menopause consultant who diagnosed me as menopausal. With this information, I went back to my GP and asked for hormone treatment. She refused because of the increased risk of uterine and breast cancer. I had looked it up on the internet that this risk is much lower with hormones that are naturally produced by the body, but she still refused. When I got angry out of desperation, she suggested that I see a psychologist. I walked out of the door angry and powerless.
On the internet, I found a private gynaecologist who was willing to prescribe hormones. These were not the body’s own, but I felt better immediately. Unfortunately, I suffered severe bleeding and a polyp, which had to be surgically removed. When I asked the gynaecologist whether I should stop or continue with the hormones, I did not hear back. Another GP referred me to a gynaecologist in the hospital who treated the polyp and referred me to a hormone specialist. There I finally got the endocrine treatment that I had been wanting to try. With success: my symptoms disappeared, and I could resume my life.
Meanwhile, four years had passed. I had barely been able to work for a year and a half. I had to look everything up on the internet; the doctors I saw were unaware of those hormones that are naturally present in the body. But on the internet, you come across all sorts of vague forums with both positive and horror stories. As a layman, you have to find your way around. And women hardly ever talk to each other about menopause. It is still considered taboo, and that is a shame because we can help each other by discussing it.
I think there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to care for women in menopause. When someone around 55 or older has vague symptoms, it should be standard for menopause to be discussed and examined. And I really do not understand the hesitance with hormones. Surely you can try it out and monitor it? I think doctors still do not focus on menopause enough, which is why women suffer so much. That is outdated.
Mirjam is 55 and a director in the cultural sector