Imagine being 35 and discovering you have the hormones of an 80-year-old woman.
That was the reality for Queenslander Jodie West, who had to navigate the minefield of misdiagnosis before finally hearing she was menopausal.
“It took me about 12 months to get diagnosed," Jodie, a former defence force worker, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“My symptoms at that point were an unusual level of fatigue, depression, extreme forgetfulness, poor recovery from exercise, insomnia and more," she continues.
"It was suggested that I had PTSD from the number of surgeries I’d had.
"At 35, with one ovary that was still healthy and working, no one suspected menopause could be on the cards."
Jodie found it nearly impossible to find "accurate" information or imagery of what she was feeling from other women her age.
"All of what I was seeing was of women 10-to-15 or more years older than I was," she said.
"This was isolating, and I had to work pretty hard mentally to push past that."
Things got so bad, Jodie suffered depression and the severity of some of her symptoms made it difficult to advocate for herself.
"The extreme forgetfulness and cognitive decline fed into that depression and contributed to panic attacks," she recalled.
"I was studying my Masters and the change in my cognitive abilities made me doubt myself and meant I wasn’t doing what I would normally do in order to find answers for my own health.
It wasn't until Jodie awoke unable to straighten her arms, after a previous day's PT session, that her GP was prompted to order a complete blood panel.
"She questioned if it was something like rhabdomyolysis and, on my request, also checked my hormones," Jodie said.
"I then found out I was menopausal.
"My gynaecologist did another round of bloods and discovered that I was not perimenopausal or just post-menopausal.
"I had the hormone levels of an 80-year-old woman!
"I started [Menopausal Hormone Therapy] that week, and I quickly noticed positive changes in myself."
Jodie's vow: 'Not end of sex life'
Jodie, who is now a sexologist, also found it difficult to find information on how her condition affected libido and how menopause affected sex.
"I was 35 and not about to let my lowered interest in sex be the end of my sex life," she said.
"My interest and my quality of orgasm may have changed, but sex was still an important part of my life and my relationship.
"There really wasn't much information around and, while there is more today, it is still an afterthought."
Through her own research, low libido is number four on the list of top symptoms which she says can affect self-confidence.
"It is one of the more talked about impacts on relationships on discussion boards," she said.
"The lack of information, resources and conversations leaves a hole in the treatment of women's health during the menopausal period and feeds into the idea that we fade into the background as we age.
"Also, women don't know that if their sex life is impacted, it doesn't mean it will be forever and, in the short term, there are ways to treat it.”
If you suspect you are menopausal
When obtaining a diagnosis, Jodie says to keep asking and even get a second (or third) opinion until you know what’s going on.
“Keep asking questions,” Jodie said.
“Remember that your health care professionals are providing a service you are paying for.
"If the answers you get don’t fit you, your values or answer your questions, then you have the right to get a second opinion, or as many as you feel you need in order to make an informed decision.
"Yes, you should listen to medical advice, that is very important.
"(However) it is ultimately your decision and no one else has to live with the consequences but you, so ensure it is the right fit for you.
"Ask questions, do your research and know you and your health are worth the effort to find the answer that is right for you.
"In the world of menopause, please look at current research and not just studies from 10+ years ago, or scare mongering used in some marketing.”
New telehealth service helping women find the support they need
Specialist GP Dr Joanna Sharp says Juniper is a first-of-its-kind women’s telehealth menopause clinic.
“We believe that all women in their mid-life deserve access to the best evidence-based guidance on how to navigate menopause and optimise their health for the next chapter of their life," Dr Sharp said.
"The service was designed to support women through every stage of the menopause journey.
"Juniper takes a holistic approach to menopause and hormonal therapies, backed by a team of fully-accredited Australian doctors.”
Jodie says a telehealth service like Juniper can help many women.
“Juniper specialises in menopause and, for many women going through this phase in life, that specialty is not always easy to find," she said.
"This service is accessible by anyone in Australia, wherever you are.
"The subscription service means that if, like me, extreme forgetfulness is one of your symptoms or if you have a busy life (many of us are raising families, working and in some cases looking after ageing parents), your medication is delivered to you and you don’t have to have it on your to-do list.
"It also instils a level of confidence in working with doctors and health care professionals who specialise in the area and want to find the right fit for you.”
How to get help on Juniper
So what’s the easiest way women can access Juniper?
An online questionnaire is the first step, Dr Sharp said.
“Women who feel they might be having symptoms of peri-menopause or menopause can go online and fill out a questionnaire with their concerns," she said.
"A doctor will make contact online and interact with them to ensure they have all the details they need to tailor treatment recommendations.
"They can provide the patient with the best scientific evidence and resources to help them to understand and guide their treatment decisions.”
Menopause: The stats
There are 34 symptoms related to menopause, the most common including hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, weight change, low libido and more.
85% of women experience hot flushes during menopause.
61% of women experience a range of sleep issues during menopause.
The average age for menopausal women is 51, although menopause can start between 45–60.
Women can experience menopausal symptoms for 5–10 years.
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