Anna was 43 when she started to experience extreme pain in her vagina, pelvis and inner thighs. Following a hysterectomy, her symptoms became more severe, and she was forced to give up work. It wasn’t until she saw Dr Louise Newson on Lorraine that she realised that HRT and vaginal oestrogen could help to resolve her symptoms.
“I’ve always suffered with heavy, painful periods that came with killer mood swings. But, when I was 42, I started to experience extreme pain in the middle of my cycle. Around the same time I began to have trouble sleeping, and I became very tearful and bad tempered. Along with feeling very tired, I started to feel a strange sensation on my back, like spiders crawling on my skin. My GP ordered blood tests but said the results were normal – it wasn’t the menopause.
“The following year, I started to have trouble sitting comfortably. My GP blamed it on my osteoarthritis, and I was so busy working as a ward sister on a dementia ward that I put it down to the physical demands of my job. My symptoms got worse when I started a new job as a senior nurse practitioner in an adult community health team. It was a sedentary job: I was either sitting at my desk, driving, or visiting patients. As well as the pain in my vagina, pelvis and inner thighs, my left hip and knee hurt when I tried to sit.
“Around this time I met my husband. We had a good sex life at the beginning, but he lived 230 miles away – which was a godsend as it often took me a couple of days to recover after we’d been intimate. The pain after sex was awful, and would sometimes keep me awake all night. My GP referred me to the pain clinic, and I was prescribed duloxetine and amitriptyline for nerve pain. When these didn’t work, I was given gabapentin, then pregabalin and finally fentanyl patches, which made my skin erupt. None of them worked. As a last resort, I was put on morphine tablets, then methadone. I could no longer work full time and I felt like a zombie.
“By this point I was in excruciating pain, especially when my period was due. I felt like something was pushing down between my legs, and sitting was a nightmare. I was sent to a neurologist who did an MRI, said everything looked fine, and referred me to a gynaecologist. I could hardly walk.
“After another spell of sick leave, I returned to work with a new manager, who was very unsympathetic. I knew that I was on the verge of losing my job, so I decided to get a second opinion just to buy myself some extra time. I’m glad I did, because, after further investigations I was offered a hysterectomy. This confirmed that I had a cyst on my ovary, fibroids, endometriosis, an enlarged womb and adenomyosis. After the surgery, I woke up pain-free for the first time in six years. It was such a relief, and I honestly believed I was going to be okay. A week later, the pain and burning came back.
“Despite this, I returned to work and tried to pretend that everything was fine. I went to work in the morning then collapsed at home in the evening. I was absolutely exhausted, not sleeping, in pain and having hot flushes all the time. I looked ten years older and had huge bags under my eyes – but I wasn’t going to be beaten because I wanted to keep my job.
“That’s when the brain fog started. I was missing things in my diary, but I managed to cover that up – although I had to work harder to make up for it. I also became very anxious. I’d wake up every morning with butterflies in my tummy and the fatigue was so bad that I’d spend weekends doing nothing but trying to catch up on my sleep. I developed pins and needles in my hands and feet, and was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy. To add to that, sex became so painful that I was up all night in agony. My libido was gone, and my orgasms vanished.
“My symptoms continued to get worse. In 2015 I was diagnosed with tinnitus, pudendal neuralgia and vulvodynia, and I was signed off work. I had three sets of injections through my vagina into the pudendal nerve. After the first one I was in so much pain that I couldn’t sit and had to lie down flat. The pain was horrendous. I didn’t get the other injections as my follow-up appointment was cancelled.
“After that, I lost my job – I was medically retired. I was heartbroken as I absolutely loved my job. I’d helped so many people and had much more to give. It wasn’t just a job it was a calling; I was proud to say I was a nurse. I was put on antidepressants but only took them for a couple of weeks – they weren’t going to help me come to terms with losing my job. Around that time I found a letter which said I should be put on oestrogen patches and progesterone for 12 months after my hysterectomy, so my GP gave me Evorel 50 patches, which helped with the hot flushes for a while.
“As I was still in pain, I was seen by a pelvic floor physio, who could find nothing wrong. I was told to do pelvic floor exercises, but they made my pain so much worse. I was seen by another physio, a psychologist and a gynaecologist, who said I didn’t have pudendal neuralgia. I was advised to get some KY Jelly and try to have sex twice a week. I was also put on a six-week pain plan, but the physiotherapists wouldn’t listen to me when I told them how much the exercises hurt. They simply said that it always hurts more before it gets better. So I did the exercises, got worse, then went back and burst into tears. I refused to do the exercises again.
“Soon after this I moved to Scotland and changed GPs. I was told I had to come off HRT as I’d been on it for two years and didn’t need it anymore, and my new GP said that most of my symptoms were due to fibromyalgia. But I was a mess without HRT. I had hot flushes, I was leaving the hob on, my memory was mush – I thought I had early-onset dementia. I didn’t feel safe and I was more exhausted than ever.
“I changed GP and ordered HRT by showing them a repeat prescription from my previous address. I got it, but it didn’t work as well as before and I was still having hot flushes. That’s when, totally by chance, I saw Dr Louise Newson on Lorraine. I followed her advice and asked for Evorel 100, and suddenly I started sleeping better, the pins and needles in my hands and feet disappeared, and the hot flushes stopped. Incredibly, the pain in my hip disappeared and I could lie on my left side again.
“That’s when I discovered the Menopause Doctor website, downloaded the Balance app, joined the Facebook group and followed on Instagram, and listened to the podcasts. I bought Jane Lewis’s book, Me & My Menopausal Vagina, and it was a revelation to discover that she’d had the same experience as me. Although I don’t have vaginal atrophy to the same extent as Jane, I couldn’t walk or sit and most evenings I lay on the settee with my legs up over the back so that I could use ice packs. Now that I have Vagifem, Sylk and BV moisturising pessaries I can sit down for a little while – if I use these every other day I feel great. At first, with the loading dose, it was itchy and sore and I was going to give up, but using Sylk over the Vagifem was a game-changer.
“Unfortunately, my GP won’t increase my dose of Vagifem, even though I told him that using it twice per week isn’t enough to relieve my symptoms. I quoted the guidelines, but he still said no. When I asked for testosterone he said, ‘Why on earth would I give that to you?’ I explained I had fatigue, brain fog and loss of libido – but to no avail. My hope is that I’ll eventually be able to get on the right dose of oestrogen and Vagifem, and hopefully testosterone, so that I can sit like a normal person.
“Over the last 13 years I’ve suffered so much, had many procedures, seen so many GPs, consultants, physios – and even a professor. None of them had any answers. But, in the space of six weeks, I’ve come further, with better results, than in all of that time – and that’s all because I happened to turn on the TV and see Dr Louise Newson.
“Before my menopausal symptoms began, I was fit and healthy. I went to the gym, went swimming and enjoyed walking, but now my body has lost its muscle mass and is weak and broken. The worst thing is that all this could have been prevented. I’m absolutely disgusted that there isn’t more menopause information out there, and that we don’t have menopause nurses in the NHS, or better workplace policies. So many women and their families are suffering needlessly.
“Fortunately, I’m now feeling more positive about the future. I’ve just celebrated my 55th birthday, and I’m finally beginning to get my self-worth and self-esteem back. I’d love to get back to work so that I can help other people, especially women like me. I feel like this is the beginning of a new life for me, and I’m determined to become the best I can possibly be.”