Diaries from a peri-menopausal nutritional therapist
Hello and welcome. My name is Jo Leccacorvi and I’m a registered nutritional therapist. I am 44 years old and turn 45 in in November this year (2023). I love my children and husband 97% of the time (the other 3% of the time they annoy me). I also love food; chocolate, cake (loving life if it’s a chocolate brownie) vegetables (obviously! And I get twitchy and constipated if I don’t eat enough), I love cooking and I 100% love my garden, it really is my happy place. I get major FOMO if a friend goes to a garden centre without me. Another, thing that only a handful of people know, is that I am in the throes of perimenopause. Not that my GP believes me. I’ll come this in more detail in a bit.
My symptoms started when my periods returned after having my daughter in May 2020. My menstrual cycle made a grand comeback whilst I was still breastfeeding her and I’m describing it as ‘grand’ as they were extremely heavy and very painful. This can be quite common for women to experience painful and heavy periods once they’ve stopped breastfeeding, and they tend to settle down after a period of time. This is based on my experience when I had my son in 2015 and on the stories of my friends who have had babies too. So, I felt it was quite unusual to have a period whilst I was still breastfeeding but not surprised that they were heavy and painful. However, the pain settled down, but the heavy bleeding has not. Still to this very day I experience heavy periods and I must wear a menstrual cup plus period underwear and yet I still ‘delightfully’ leak every single month.
The other symptoms I have experienced are night sweats – waking up dripping in sweat, soaking wet sheets, and pyjamas. I also started to develop a delightful and weird body odour, not BO but the smell reminds of when my milk came in when I was breastfeeding. It is a really distinct smell and I find it hard to describe. My cycle also started to get shorter, historically and without fail, I got my period every 30 days but now they arrive every 24-26 days.
My night sweats were accompanied by mood swings which I hadn’t experienced since my mid-20s. Aged 26 I made the connection between what I ate and my symptoms, I overhauled my diet and my PMT symptoms pretty much vanished. So, you can imagine, aged 44, no change to my diet, that my PMT symptoms reappeared along with incredibly painful boobs in the lead up to my period. It was like I was pregnant again even though I knew I wasn’t. I found the emotional rollercoaster of the mood swings exhausting and I genuinely thought there was something wrong me. I was starting to forget things in all areas of my life; dressing up days at my son’s school, appointments, stuff at work which caused me massive anxiety and I also struggled with name recall.
Anxiety is something that I have suffered with since I was a child. I was the daughter of an alcoholic father and my mum picked up the slack, so she had a huge mental load to carry. The result of this was me feeling anxious, like I wasn’t good enough and being frightened of change outside of my normal routine. As I grew up, I overcame my anxiety and grew in confidence. I noticed around two years ago that my anxiety levels were creeping up again, for example, if I had paid for parking in a car park, I’d worry about making it back in time and getting a ticket. I’d catastrophise about potential situations that might happen and starting my nutrition business where I’ve had to get outside of my comfort zone has brought a whole host of new anxieties and feeling and thoughts of ‘I’m not good enough’ reared their head once again.
Also, I was feeling extremely tired to the point where I felt like I had brain fog some days. I’d have to talk myself into doing tasks by going through each step needed to complete whatever it was and encourage myself to take the first step. I put this down to being a mum and having a never ending to do list and not being able to sleep properly. I could fall asleep easily but kept waking up at 3am wide awake and not being able to get back to sleep. I felt like I was flat lining, I had a loss of joy, motivation, lack of interest in my normal hobbies and a lack of enthusiasm. I wondered if my depression was creeping back in even though I didn't feel depressed.
Whilst I was experiencing all these different symptoms it never occurred to me that I could be perimenopausal. I went to my GP about the heavy bleeding and because I was spotting between periods, I was sent for a scan which came back clear. I also had various blood tests that were all within range. So, whilst that was positive news, I was left wondering why I was getting ridiculously heavy periods and what the cause would be, my thinking was if I can work out the cause then that would lead to a solution. I asked my GP what else could be causing them, but I didn’t really get a definitive answer, I was told it is normal having a baby (my daughter was aged 2 by this point) to get heavy periods and for women my age it is quite common to have heavy periods. There was no mention of the possibility of being perimenopausal. I was offered a drug called tranexamic acid and the Minera coil. I declined both as I did not like the side effects associated with tranexamic acid and my experience of taking hormone-based contraception has been very negative. So, I was pretty much left to it by my GP as from their point of view there was nothing else to do. I did end up having to go back as the spotting between my period had returned. I was referred to the Gynae department at my local hospital. This was two years ago and I’m still waiting for my appointment. It turns out the referral was never sent off.
Around December 2022 I started to think about the possibility of being perimenopausal. I can’t exactly recall what led me to think this, I think I read an article about heavy periods being a symptom of perimenopause. I didn’t really understand much about perimenopause and thought I was too young as I associated menopause with having no periods and I was still getting them. So, I purchased a book by Lara Briden called the Hormone Repair Manual. Reading the book was very enlightening and so many things resonated with me, and I was finally able to link all my symptoms. I felt seen and reassured and realised that I could be low on progesterone. It was a real lightbulb moment for me.
Armed with this information I went back to the GP. I had to see a different one this time as the other GP had left the surgery. The appointment turned out to be a bit of a disaster as I forgot about it (hello memory loss), so I didn’t have time to prepare for it which left me feeling very flustered. I explained to the GP that, based on my research, I believed that I could be perimenopausal and listed my symptoms. Frustratingly the GP told me I’m not menopausal as I still have my periods. I explained that I didn’t think I was menopausal and that I was perimenopausal. We went back and forth like this a few times which I found frustrating and left me feeling more flustered. I told her about my heavy periods, how they impact me and how they can be linked to perimenopause. I nervously asked the GP about HRT, but she instantly dismissed it despite it potentially helping with my symptoms. The GP said I was too young to have HRT. Because I was feeling so flustered, I forgot the name of the progesterone I wanted to discuss (Utrogestan) with her and somehow managed to ask for levonorgestrel. I realised it was the wrong one when I got home and had to make another appointment to see the GP. I was really pissed off with myself.
This time I was prepared for the next appointment and made notes, as I wanted to feel confident rather than flustered. The appointment was over the telephone and to be completely honest it was an unpleasant experience. The GP kept insisting that I was too young for the perimenopause, she dismissed my symptoms because I couldn't possibly be menopausal as I was still having periods. We went back and forth again about the difference between being perimenopausal and menopausal. The doctor kept talking over me which prevented me from getting my points across she was snapping at me, and it felt like a very confrontational appointment which was not how I envisioned it being. Eventually she agreed to prescribing me HRT but gave me no information about how to take it and told me to come back in three months.
Even though I eventually got what I asked for I felt like I really had to fight for it, I also felt like I wasn’t being listened to and felt very dismissed. It massively triggered my anxiety, and I was very upset. I did not feel supported by my GP. Lots of family and friends told me that I should make a complaint but to be honest I just did not have the headspace to deal with it and decided that when I went back for my review appointment, I would see another GP.
There is more to come on my perimenopause journey diary. In my next post I’m going to share my experience of taking HRT for the first time and update you on the follow up appointment.
In the meantime, I would love to know what your experience has been with your GP about your perimenopausal symptoms. Please share in the comments below