Menopause, when a woman’s periods stop and they are unable to conceive naturally, typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.
According to the Australasian Menopause Society, the majority of women experience menopause naturally between the ages of 45 and 55 years, with the average age of onset being about 50.
A small number - just one per cent - of women experience menopause before the age of 40, per stats from London’s Lister Fertility Clinic.
For Denise Harding, however, ‘the change’ occurred years earlier than expected. She went through ‘early menopause’ at the age of 32, making her part of the 0.1 per cent of women under 30 who do so.
A ‘horrifying’ change
Now 57, Denise says going through menopause in her early thirties - while caring for her four young children - left her “horrified”, and she could never have imagined the toll it would take on her body and her mental health.
Indeed, a UK survey found that for over half of menopausal and post-menopausal women, their symptoms ‘strongly affected’ their life.
Denise began experiencing menopause-like symptoms just weeks after a hysterectomy - a surgery which involves the removal of the uterus - she underwent in order to treat her severely painful periods.
The life-altering symptoms began with regular panic attacks and anxiety symptoms, which Denise says made her feel as though she was “going mad”.
Shortly after followed all the telltale signs of menopause: hot flushes, sleeplessness, and, out of nowhere, incontinence.
“It’s a really taboo subject - you keep wetting yourself,” she said. “You don’t want to go out and socialise because it’s so embarrassing. I couldn’t go anywhere without wearing a pad in my knickers.”
What’s more, she was left with an ever-present “brain fog,” a problem typically associated with middle age.
Denise found the experience “isolating,” particularly as her friends were still having babies while she felt “barren”. Instead, she relied on her mother - who was going through her own menopause at the time - for support.
Treating early menopause
Denise suffered in relative silence for over two years before, aged 35, she decided to go on hormone replacement therapy or HRT, which is a medication that contains hormones that the body ceases producing post-menopause.
She was on the medication for a decade, despite the risks of taking HRT long-term such as a small increase in the risk of heart disease or stroke.
“Because I was so young they didn’t know what to do with me,” she explained.
A petite woman of 5”3 in, Denise saw her weight rocket from 60kg to 76kg, which affected her self esteem. Even though she avoided having her photo taken during that time, she says she’d “rather be fat” than experience menopause symptoms.
At 45, Denise was left with no choice but to come off HRT following a blood pressure scare, which saw her menopause - including the incontinence and night-sweats - came back with a vengeance.
With sex the last thing she wanted to do, Denise moved into a separate bedroom from her husband. It was only when she went on bio-identical hormone replacement - a natural alternative to HRT - years later that she felt normal again.
“I’ve finally got my life back,” she said.
‘You don’t have to suffer’
Today, Denise regrets her decision to have a hysterectomy, stressing she was “never warned” about the risk it may cause early menopause.
Certain cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can also bring on early menopause,
Her daughter, who is now 32 herself, has experienced the same crippling period pains her mother did, but thankfully there are different treatments available these days.
Denise wants women in her position to know they have options and “shouldn’t have to suffer through menopause”.
“Make sure you draw attention to what you’re going through and remember there are alternative solutions out there,” she advised.
For menopause support, The Australasian Menopause Society offers education, information and guidance to help navigate the process.
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