Hormones in your 40s: Here’s what you need to know

Hormones – something most of us pretty much take for granted until they start to wreck havoc in our lives. Truth is, my struggle with hormones began much earlier than most when I had to have my thryoid removed due to precancerous cells in my thirties, and then again after the birth of my daughter. Having been on the receiving side of plenty of grief with my hormones, I am hugely respectful of them, and know just how important it is to understand them if we want to feel okay within ourselves. But what about hormones in your 40s? Well, that is a whole other chapter, right my friends?

During my thirties when I felt so bad I felt that I was actually going mad, it was The Marion Gluck Clinic that came to the resuce. They righted the wrong that nobody else seemed to be able to understand, and for that I am every thankful. That’s why this World Menopause Day, I really wanted to work together with them – as a world-leader specialising in hormone balancing therapy using bioidentical hormones – to produce this quick guide to hormones in your 40s.

It is both a privilege and honour that we have Dr Marion Gluck – Hormone and Women’s Health Specialist and Founder of The Marion Gluck Clinic – herself to share her incredible knowledge on the subject of hormones in your 40s.

Can you explain what exactly happens to women’s hormones their 40s?

From around the age of 40 ovaries will slowly lose their function and the effects of hormonal change starts to become evident as the body makes the natural transition to menopause. This phase is called the perimenopause, and the reproductive hormones, most significantly estrogen and progesterone, start to decrease.

When women are perimenopausal it is likely they will notice symptoms but will still have their period.  During this time, hormones will start to fluctuate on a big scale. There could be some months when ovulation occurs and then there could be some when it doesn’t. It’s a time of extremes and as a result, can cause dramatic mood swings and extreme symptoms. It can be a very difficult time for women because they often don’t understand what’s going on and just don’t feel themselves.

The ‘normal’ age for perimenopause varies. Most will become aware of the transition when they reach their mid to late forties, but some women can begin to experience symptoms of perimenopause as early as the age of 35. Often the timing of this phase is similar to the time when a woman’s mother went through the same transition. That being said, the length of time and severity of menopause-related symptoms for any individual woman cannot be predicted, and every menopause is unique. Genetic and environmental factors are an important factor in determining when a woman may enter the menopause.

Hormones in your 40s

What sort of knock-on effects do these changes have in relation to our bodies and minds?

Although some women will sail through perimenopause, many will experience symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Those who experience severe symptoms often find it impacts on quality of life. Signs of perimenopause are many and varied. Symptoms can include:

  • Irregular periods
  • Periods that are heavier or lighter than usual
  • Low libido
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • PMS
  • Fatigue
  • Hot flushes
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain
  • Anger and irritability
  • Heart palpitations
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Memory loss
  • Night sweats
  • Dysfunctional uterine bleeding
  • Anaemia
  • Bloating
  • Fluid retention
  • Breast tenderness
  • Aches and painful joints
  • Frequent headaches
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Dry skin

Can you share some insider tips on how to manage

a) Sleep problems

A good night’s sleep is the best treat your body can ask for, especially when perimenopausal or menopausal. Good sleep helps to balance blood sugar, reduces the risk of heart disease, helps maintain a healthy weight, reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system, increases energy and concentration, and reduces anxiety. There are several factors that can affect sleep such as stress, hormonal changes, diet, and inflammation to name a few. For better sleep try the following:

– Regular moderate exercise is an excellent way to support good sleep. 

– Try limiting your alcohol intake, particularly in the evenings. Too much alcohol can have a detrimental effect on sleep quality as it reduces REM sleep (the restorative part of the sleep cycle) and can interrupt the circadian rhythm, a study has shown.

– Avoid foods containing a substance called tyramine, particularly in the evening, as this causes the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant. Foods with high content of tyramine include aged cheeses, red wine, some beers, cured meats, and smoked fish.

– If you are experiencing or have experienced prolonged periods of stress in the past, it may be recommended to get your daily cortisol pattern checked (a qualified medical professional or naturopath can help you with that). A disrupted cortisol pattern can affect your energy levels as well as sleep. If this is the case, a class of herbs known as adaptogens can be of great help.

– Getting your daily boost of sunshine is the way forward to better sleep. This is because we need sunlight to keep our circadian rhythm going, which tells our bodies when it is time to sleep and to be awake. Sunlight also plays a role in Vitamin D production, which is essential for so many aspects of our health.

Hormones in your 40s

b) Spots

The skin contains estrogen receptors, as well as receptors for progesterone and testosterone. Therefore, deficiencies of these three hormones contribute to skin aging, in both men and women and results in the skin becomes more prone to sun damage, pimples and rashes, and can be easily irritated.

Acne, which is usually a curse of adolescence (teenage acne) can also occur for the first time later in life (adult onset acne). All acne is hormone related but when we talk about ‘hormonal acne’ we typically refer to adult female acne.

Hormonal acne tends to affect more the lower part of the face and adult female acne can present with cyclical outbreaks and is usually more resistant to the standard treatments. Adult female acne can be caused by different hormonal imbalances such as raised male androgens or an imbalance

When experiencing female acne it is recommended that the woman complete hormone profiling to help determine which hormones require rebalancing. A bespoke treatment plan can then be actioned to target their needs. Prescription hormone face creams can also be used to improve female acne. Unlike commercially available skincare products, prescription creams are formulated to cater to the individual, addressing specific concerns.

c) Brain drain/Lethargy

Many women describe experiencing ‘brain fog’ during perimenopause and menopause and think that symptoms such as forgetfulness and increased anxiety are signs of them getting old or ‘going mad’. However, many of these symptoms can be attributed to the hormonal changes that take place during menopause.

Research has shown that certain lifestyle modifications can have a positive impact on cognitive function during menopause.  A recent study found that cognitive training, for example, doing puzzles or learning a new skill, improved people’s memory. Practising mindfulness and doing exercises, such as yoga and Tai Chi have also proved to be effective for improving cognitive function, partly through their stress-reducing qualities.

A balanced diet, low in sugar, caffeine and alcohol, is also recommended. Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet, full of ‘good fats’ and fresh produce, is particularly beneficial for cognitive function.

Sleep is also vital as it removes toxins from the brain and quality, deep sleep enables memory consolidation and information processing from the day. Limiting screen time at night is essential as the blue light emitted from devices causes decreased levels of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

Hormones in your 40s

What other options are out there for balancing hormones in your 40s?

If you’d rather not take hormone replacement therapy, then there are some natural alternatives you can try. One suggestion is Agnus Castus which is said to break down excessive hormones and rebalance them. The other widely known remedy is Evening Primrose oil which many people swear helps relieve menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms.

What are some signs you should not ignore when it comes to hormonal imbalance?

An optimal balance of hormones is vital to overall wellbeing including brain function, cardiovascular health, bones, vaginal and urethral health. We use bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), an alternative to HRT, to replenish these hormones to your optimal levels in order to maintain health, energy, mood and brain function. Any symptoms that affect quality of life, or brain or body function, should be checked by a professional.

When should women seek professional help?

As women move through each phase of perimenopause and menopause, hormone levels can fluctuate significantly causing hormonal imbalance. These vital hormones, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone remain important for bones, vaginal and urethral health, skin, brain function and cardiovascular health. It is therefore important to effectively balance and replenish these hormones in order to maintain health, energy, mood and brain function.

Menopause may be something all women go through, but that doesn’t mean there is a ‘one size fits all’ treatment path. Every woman is unique, and their symptoms will be unique too. Women should seek help if their symptoms are having a detrimental impact on their life, and they feel unable to achieve tasks that before were commonplace. By looking at the whole picture, including lifestyle factors, nutrition and family medical history with a professional, a tailored treatment plan can be produced.

Have you experienced any of the above knock on effects of hormones in your 40s? Do leave a comment below and share your experiences and join our community on Instagram here where we’ll be keeping the conversation going.

About The Marion Gluck Clinic

The Marion Gluck Clinic is the UK’s leading medical clinic that pioneered the use of bioidentical hormones to treat menopause, perimenopause and other hormone related issues. Headed up by Dr. Marion Gluck herself, the clinic uses her method of bioidentical hormonal treatment to rebalance hormones to improve wellbeing, quality of life and to slow down ageing. 

Hair photo created by lookstudio, clock vector created by freepik, woman photo created by karlyukav, Hand photo created by 8photo

How to check your breasts for lumps

Righto ladies, today in this second part of our Breast Cancer Awareness month series we are going to talk boobs – specifically, how to check your breasts for lumps. Sadly, in this country we are woefully behind on understanding how, when, why and where we should be copping a feel of our jugs so that we can check your breasts for lumps.

I became painfully aware of this when I recently tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation responsible for hereditary breast cancer in my family. Embarassed to realise that I probably hadn’t checked my boobs since life before the ‘vid, I got a rude awakening when I realised I had absolutely no idea what I was doing on the breast feeling front.

So with that said, this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we have together this in depth guide on how to check your breasts for lumps with Dr Deborah Lee of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy. Remember ladies, knowledge is power and our breasts deserve more than just the occassional squeeze during a mid life romp.

And if you missed it don’t forget to catch on part one of our breast cancer series where we clear up all the things you wanted to know about breast cancer but never dared ask as well as common breast cancer misconceptions.

check your breasts for lumps

The 40 Now What guide on how to check your breasts for lumps

The best time to check your breasts

Breastcancer.org recommends you check your breasts once a month, a few days after your period has come to an end. This means that any premenstrual breast pain and tenderness should have settled. If you are not having periods, which could be for many reasons, choose a day – say the 1st day of each calendar month – to do this.

The best place to check your breasts

The best place to carry out your breast examination is in your bedroom or bathroom, where it is warm and private, and you have a mirror in which you can see your whole upper body, and a good light. You need to feel relaxed, confident and unhurried, and be able to get a good view of both breasts. You also need to be near your bed so you can examine your breasts sitting up and lying down.

How to check your breasts step by step

Undress completely to the waist, and stand in front of the mirror, so you can see your whole chest and both breasts. Stand square in front of the mirror and look at your breasts. It is normal for one to be slightly larger than the other.

Look at the shape and contours of both breasts. Look at the nipples. Is there any irregularity in the outline of the breasts, or any unusual dimpling or puckering of the skin, especially around the nipple area? Are there any red areas, swelling or rashes?

Next, slowly raise both arms above your head and hold them there, as you continue watching carefully in the mirror. The breasts should change shape in a symmetrical fashion. Again, can you see any changes in the breast as described above? Look under the armpits too. Now lower your arms to the resting position. Have you noticed any discharge from either nipple – this could be clear, milky, or blood-stained?

Your next step is to lie on the bed and put one hand behind your head and with the other, use the flat of your fingers to examine each breast. Feel round all four quarters of the breast rolling the tissue gently under your fingers against your ribs. Be careful around and under the nipple area, and make sure you feel right round under the arm into your armpit, and across the entire chest wall from the upper abdomen to the collarbone. You need to use a medium to firm pressure, but it should not be painful. Then change hands and examine the other breast.

Next, sit on the edge of the bed. Keep your arms by your side. Feel right around each breast carefully, including behind the nipple, into the armpit and up into the collarbone.

What to look out for

By doing self-breast examination, you will get to know what your breasts normally feel like, and this will hopefully mean you can notice quickly if anything changes.

You need to look out for any changes in the shape or contour of the breast, along with any puckering or dimpling of the skin, especially around the nipple. If you find a breast lump, try not to panic. Breasts can feel lumpy especially before a period. Benign breasts lumps such as breast cysts are very common. Check for any nipple discharge. Always remember to feel right round and into the armpit.

The average breast cancer is around 1 cm in diameter when it is felt in the breast – about the size of a kidney bean. However, the size of breast tumours does vary from smaller, to much larger. They can also increase in size quite quickly. They are usually mobile and not fixed in one place unless the disease has become advanced. Most breast cancers are painless.

check your breasts for lumps
Check4Cancer is available via myGP, the UK’s largest independent healthcare management app

Don’t panic

If you find a breast lump, try not to panic. Around 80% of breast lumps are benign (noncancerous) – however, anything that is not normal for you, should be reported promptly to your GP.

Common benign lumps include –

  • Breast cysts – the breast is a gland- the mammary gland – consisting of lobules that can fill with fluid to form a cyst. The cysts will feel a bit like a squashy balloon. These can be aspirated with a needle and a syringe.
  • Fibroadenoma – These are benign tumours made of glandular and connective tissue, that often feel hard and gritty. They tend to be near the surface of the breast. They are often removed with a lumpectomy – usually to check the pathology and ensure they are benign.
  • Fibroadenosis – this is just a general lumpiness you can often feel in the breast, which is sometimes a bit tender and often worse before a period. Sometimes on a mammogram the are contains calcification.
  • Mastitis – this is a painful infection in the breast. It is often related to breastfeeding. Although generally benign, it does need to be distinguished from an inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Sclerosing adenosis – a small painful lump that develops due to overgrowth of breast lobules.
  • Duct ectasia – this is common in the premenopausal and menopausal period, when the milk ducts around the nipple become clogged and the tissue shrinks. The nipples can be retracted inwards.
  • Fat necrosis – this can occur usually as a result of surgery when scar tissue causes a hard lump that may be associated with a nipple discharge.

There are some other benign conditions that can occur in the breasts such as lipomas (fatty lumps), and haematomas (bruises – a collection of blood under the skin).

There are also a range of premalignant conditions which need to be picked up and removed before they become malignant. Examples include intraductal papillomas, ductal hyperplasia and ductal carcinoma in situ.

Unfortunately, having benign breast disease does increase our lifetime risk of breast cancer. It is imperative you continue to check your breasts regularly throughout your lifetime and attend regularly for breast cancer screening when you are invited.

Getting to know your breasts

Breastcancer.org suggests you need to get to know ‘the different neighbourhoods of the breast.’ They say the upper outer portion of the breast is the area likely to be the easiest to feel, in terms of lumps and bumps. They describe the lower half of the breast feels like a sandy or pebbly beach, and that the area under the nipple feels like a collection of large grains. Other parts of the breast, they say, may feel like lumpy oatmeal. Having examined many breasts in my working lifetime, I really like these analogies.

The idea here is not to be afraid of your body. You need to love and respect it and know every nook and cranny. You are the best person to notice if something is wrong. Don’t be fearful of checking your breasts. If there is any abnormality, the sooner you get this checked out at the GP surgery, the quicker you can get on and have treatment.

check your breasts for lumps

What else you need to know

Caring for yourself is vitally important. When you reach the age of 50, please go and have your breast screening mammograms. Breast cancer screening saves 1 life for every 200 women screened. This means the programme saves 1300 lives every year.

Breast cancer screening has the advantage of detecting cancers early, meaning they can often be treated with  minimal surgery. 80% of women whose cancers are picked up with screening mammograms, have lumpectomy and if needed, radiotherapy, meaning they do not need to undergo a full mastectomy.

At the moment, breast cancer screening in the UK starts at 47, meaning all women should get their first invitation before the age of 50, and continues every 3 years, until the age of 70 years. Over the age of 70 women can still request a 3 yearly mammogram – they just don’t get an automatic invitation. However, Breastcancer.org has always recommended breast cancer screening should start at age 40.

Unfortunately, screening mammograms are not 100% accurate and can result in overdiagnosis of breast cancer, resulting in unnecessary investigations and sometimes surgery. So, it’s not as simple as just a blanket recommendation to screen women at younger and younger ages. Also, breast cancers can occur during the 3 year screening interval, which is why continuing to examine your breasts regularly is so important.

For the best outcome, women need to be familiar with their own breasts and be able to spot quickly if something has changed or is not quite right. Once this has been reported to the GP, they can be fast-tracked if needed to the Breast Clinic for further investigation and treatment.

For more information

So go on, cop a feel….it could just save your life.

Picture credits: Photos by Jan Kopřiva , Olya Kobruseva & Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

Breast cancer: what you’ve always wanted to know + misconceptions to avoid

Breast cancer has been a hot topic in our household since I recently tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation responsible for hereditary breast cancer in our family. And as I started having more and more conversations around breast cancer, I realised just how many breast cancer misconceptions many of us had been duped by somewhere along the line. Well, it is no wonder seeing as we live in an era of fake news is it really?

But that stops here because this Breast Cancer Awareness month, the team at 40 Now What decided that it’s time to set the record straight in our two part series on breast cancer.

In part one we’ll be taking a sledgehammer to all those breast cancer misconceptions with insights from Daniel Leff, Consultant in Oncoplastic Breast Surgery at King Edward VII’s Hospital and Dr Petra Simic, Medical Director at Bupa UK Insurance. In part two, we’ll be getting underneath the hood so to speak with a detailed guide on how to check your breasts and everything you need to know in order to become your boobs’ best friend and safeguarder with Dr Deborah Lee of the Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.

The things you wanted to know about breast cancer but never dared ask

Here, Mr Daniel Leff, Consultant in Oncoplastic Breast Surgery at King Edward VII’s Hospital in London takes us through all the things you always wanted to know about breast cancer but were too scared to ask.

He says: “In my practice I see a lot of patients who have been holding off from asking questions because they’re embarrassed or are worried about what I’ll think.

“But I always encourage my patients to come forward with whatever’s on their mind, rather than holding the question in or trying to search the internet for the answer. There’s plenty of misinformation out there and often you’ll come across myths that might make you feel worse, or worry unnecessarily, so it’s always best to speak to a medical professional if you have any concerns.”

If a family member has had breast cancer, will I get it too?

There are lots of different risk factors for breast cancer. Some of these factors are genetic and some are environmental, so often it’s hard to say exactly why someone has developed a cancer – it could be due to multiple factors.

There are some genetic factors that we do know about – for example some families carry the BRCA 1 or 2 genes which raise the risk of some cancers, including breast and ovarian cancer in women and male breast cancer and prostate cancer in men.

If you have potential breast cancer symptoms and there is a history of breast, ovarian, prostate or pancreatic cancer in your family, it’s definitely worth seeking medical advice.

I’ve heard that being on the contraceptive pill (or taking HRT) could give you breast cancer?

There is some scientific research showing that people who take the contraceptive pill have a slightly higher chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer than people who have never taken it. But there are lots of other factors involved, including your family history as well as lifestyle factors such as the amount of alcohol you drink, being overweight, or previously having had radiation therapy.

There are some studies that show a link between taking HRT and a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer in post-menopausal women – but only if you have taken it for longer than a year. And this risk starts to decrease when you stop taking it.

Should people who have had breast augmentation surgery be more worried?

There’s not enough evidence to know whether breast implants are a risk factor in breast cancer.

But a myth that I often hear is that breast implants make it impossible to detect or diagnose breast cancer. Happily, this is completely untrue. When it comes to self-examinations though, there are some different techniques to use. For example, people who have breast implants may want to lie down and feel for the implant, then feel carefully and gently for their ribs underneath to check for lumps.

When standing, it’s important to check for changes to the appearance of the breasts such as swelling, colour changes, rashes or puckering, by looking in the mirror. Try this both with arms raised and arms by the sides to help check for changes.

Are mammograms painful?

Everyone’s perception of pain is different. However, is it is true that some people find having a mammograms uncomfortable, but few find it very painful. We try to make the process as pain-free as possible, and depending on what exactly is needed to help with a diagnosis, we can numb the area too.

What I would say is that techniques are improving all the time, so I’d try not to let preconceptions or other people’s experiences put you off. If there’s something that you’re worried about it’s always important to get checked rather than delaying seeking help, as this could mean less invasive treatment later down the line.

Is it true that mammograms don’t work on younger people?

Breast cancer mainly occurs in people over 50, and it’s rare in people in their 20s and 30s, but that doesn’t mean that younger people shouldn’t be vigilant. The majority of lumps in younger people are totally benign lumps called fibroadenomas – which may feel hard and rubbery – but your GP may refer you to a breast clinic for a scan or biopsy to make sure.

It is true that mammograms are used more to diagnose breast cancer in older patients – because the breast tissue tends to be less dense, making it easier to detect on the mammogram. But we have lots of other very successful techniques to diagnose breast cancer in younger patients, such as ultrasound examinations.

Does nipple discharge indicate cancer?

In most cases, nipple discharge that comes only from pressure or massage from multiple points on the nipple from  both sides of the breast is normal, and  this type of discharge on its own isn’t usually a sign of breast cancer. It might just be something that happens from time to time, especially after giving birth or while breastfeeding, or it might be caused by widening of the ducts  or a benign lump, or as a side effect of a medication. 

But there are some signs that there may be something more serious going on. If fluid leaks out regularly, or spontaneously (without you pressing or squeezing the nipple) or is blood stained, then that can be a warning sign. And if you’re over 50 and / or have other symptoms like a lump, pain, swelling or a non-itchy rash on one breast, you should seek medical help.

It’s important to note that nipple discharge in men isn’t normal, so men who notice fluid coming from their nipples should make an appointment with their GP. And the main point I’d make here is that if something is worrying you, get it checked out.

Is it still possible to get breast cancer treatment during COVID?

If you have symptoms that you’re worried about, it’s important to still seek help. Lots of doctors are now conducting appointments over the phone or over video call, so it might be possible to reassure you without having to go to a GP surgery or hospital in person.

If a physical examination is necessary, medical staff have taken every precaution to keep patients safe. There might be some new rules to follow when you attend your appointment, so make sure you read any letters or correspondence carefully.

7 breast cancer misconceptions to avoid

Misinformation about breast cancer floods the internet and social media. Here, Dr Petra Simic, Medical Director at Bupa UK Insurance sets the record straight by separating fact from fiction.

Myth 1: Finding a lump in your breast is always cancerous

If you notice a lump in your breast, it’s very important to get this checked by your doctor; a lump or change to the feel or appearance of your breasts should never be ignored. However, not all lumps are cancer – but they do need to be checked out.

It can be difficult opening up about your breast health; perhaps you’re worried about wasting your doctor’s time, or you may be nervous or embarrassed to tell them about how you’re feeling.

However, it’s always best to reach out to your doctor for anything unusual. Your healthcare professional will want to hear about any changes you are concerned about.

Myth 2: I should check my breasts on the same day of every month

You should check your breasts whenever it’s convenient for you. It’s important to get to know what is normal for you to help notice any changes. A good time to check your breasts can be when you’re in the shower or bath. You should speak to your GP about any changes to how your breasts feel or look.

Myth 3: If I check my breasts regularly, I don’t need a mammogram

It’s important that you check your breasts regularly and attend your female health appointments. A mammogram is a type of X-ray that can help find breast cancer at an early stage when treatment is most successful.

Anyone registered with a GP as female will be invited for NHS breast screening every three years between the ages of 50 and 71. Cancers found during a mammogram may have been too small to see or be difficult to feel, meaning you may not have noticed a change in appearance or touch.

Myth 4: Wearing a bra can cause cancer

There is no evidence that wearing a bra causes breast cancer. The theory behind this misconception focuses on wearing an underwired bra, and a theory that the wiring restricts the flow of lymph fluid out of the breast. There is no scientific evidence to support this theory.

However, it is important that you wear a correctly fitting bra as not wearing the right sized or supportive bra can lead to breast pain.

Myth 5: Breast cancer is only a problem which affects women

This isn’t true: whilst each year in the UK, 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, 350 men are also diagnosed each year. Although this is a much smaller number in comparison to women, it’s still important for men to report any changes to their doctor.  

Having a close male family member (brother or father) with a history of breast cancer can mean you have a higher risk of having breast cancer, so make sure this information is shared with family members, or any medical professional if you are having breast issues. 

Myth 6: I don’t have any symptoms, so I don’t need to attend screening appointments or health check ups

Female health checks and cancer screening across all ages are there to detect any early signs of abnormalities and cancer. It’s important to attend all your female health checks and to know how to identify important changes in your own body.

Even if you’re showing no unusual symptoms, you should attend your checks and screening appointments as these can detect abnormalities before you start showing any symptoms. Early detection is key to effectively treating cancers; attending all appointments – even if you’re feeling well – is vital.

Myth 7: I have a breast lump and I am due my routine screening mammogram, so I don’t need to see a doctor

Not all breast cancers are apparent on mammogram. If you’ve found a breast abnormality you need to see your doctor, as you may need other tests in addition to a mammogram to rule out breast cancer.

Mammograms are designed for women without any symptoms and will pick up around 4 in 5 breast cancers.  They aren’t 100% accurate in showing if a person has breast cancer, so it shouldn’t replace seeing your GP if you have new symptoms.

If you’ve had a normal mammogram and subsequently find a lump or a change, it’s important you also see your GP just as urgently, as you may need an ultrasound scan or other tests to rule out breast cancer. 

Breast cancer is not an easy topic to talk about, but it is important to guard against fake, misleading and ill-informed medical information that potentially poses significant risks. Help us fight back against misinformation by sharing this article with your friends and family today and connect with us on Instagram here where we’ll be continuining the conversation on all things breast cancer this month.

Photos by Klaus Nielsen & Olya Kobruseva from Pexels

Will the menopause ruin your life? Here’s what you need to know

The menopause is big news at the moment, thanks to Davina’s candid account of her menopause experience over on Channel 4 a few months back. For those of us hitting our 40s, you might already wondering if the menopause will ruin your life.

It’s a harsh reality that the menopause descending on us one day becomes pretty much avoidable. No longer will we be laughing at women being attached to their wide open freezers trying to surpress the cruelty of hot flashes because one day – probably sooner than we think – those women will be us.

The truth is, I am actually completely bricking it at the prospect of the menopause wrecking my life. I am scared of being a foggy, dried up, manica whose life seems to be swung into complete calamity thanks to the change in hormones. I’m just not ready to go there yet, and I am beyond frightened.

And I am frightened because everyone’s experience seems to be so different! Some women I have spoken to seem to have breezed through it without so much as batting an eyelash. Others on the other hand have pretty much been falling apart at the seams. I hope and pray I will not be the latter, but knowing my luck with hormones I’m banking on becoming a wailing banshee, who can not sleep or basically function, drenched in menopause induced sweat. Please God don’t let it be so.

So will the menopause ruin your life? I’ve asked Teresa Townsend, Menopause and Mental Fitness Coach, to join forces with us in this little explainer – or should I say – spoiler about the menopause.

Menopause: The basics

Every woman will go through a menopause stage (unless her ovaries were surgically removed before puberty), some with little to no symptoms, and some with many.

Perimenopause can last upwards of 10 years. Hot flashes and night sweats on average last about seven and a half years and they can last upwards of 14 years. It’s variable and, of course, depends on factors like genetics and health.

It’s often misunderstood – even by healthcare professionals

Since perimenopause arrives at a time of life when many different events are at play – and because symptoms are so numerous – it can be misdiagnosed by GPs and other healthcare professionals. Often women “report suddenly getting panic attacks from nowhere”, are often thought to be depressed or suffering heart problems, when really it is their fluctuating hormones that are responsible. Another thing a lot of women are told is that it isn’t the menopause because they’re still having periods, again just misunderstanding what menopause actually is. Some women are put on anxiety medication instead of HRT and this is why this petition below is so important.

In the UK #MakeMenopauseMatter campaign is aiming for 150,000 signatures on a petition to parliament demanding mandatory menopause training for all GPs, and menopause policies in every workplace.

Only in September 2020 was the subject of Menopause added to the UK school curriculum.

During menopause, approximately 85% report experiencing symptoms of varying type and severity.

Premature menopause can happen in early teens or 20s – about one in 1000 women reach menopause before the age of 30.

Challenges at work

In a recent Chartered Institute of Personnel Development survey in the U.K. found that 59% of women experiencing menopausal symptoms said that it had a negative impact on their work and difficult to cope with their tasks. Another study of nearly 900 professional women found that lowered confidence, poor concentration and poor memory associated with menopause symptoms caused significant difficulties at work.

Your “bad” cholesterol may go up

Turns out estrogen does a lot more than help regulate our periods: It keeps LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) low and HDL cholesterol (the good kind) high. So, as estrogen decreases during menopause, LDL tends to rise and HDL stays the same. The good news, that if you lead a healthy lifestyle as you approach menopause you can prevent these fluctuations. What’s more, making sure you get plenty of exercise and that you’re eating a heart-healthy diet are two lifestyle changes that can go a long way toward countering these cholesterol changes during menopause.

You may feel less social

If you’ve always been an extrovert, you may be surprised when you suddenly feel like spending more time alone. “Menopause is an introspective period, which means you might experience an emotional shift that could affect your social life,” says Holly Lucille, ND, a naturopathic doctor in Los Angeles. “Don’t just jump to the assumption that you’re depressed. This newfound introspection should be honored.” At long last, this is often a time in a woman’s life when she starts to put herself first. “Prior to menopause, women are more likely to make sure that their kids, partner, parents, co-workers—you name it—get what they need, and only then does she take care of herself,” says Barb Dehn, RN, a nurse practitioner in Mountain View, Calif., and author of The Hot Guide to Cool Sexy Menopause. “During menopause, many women start prioritizing themselves and start thinking about what they want to do.”

The emotional symptoms can sometimes be worse than the physical symptoms

The emotions can be really horrible and take you by surprise! A lot of women find they get angry, irritable, short-tempered and apathetic. Be aware, for some women, the emotional side of it can be worse than the physical symptoms that you’re experiencing. 

menopause ruin your life

The following menopausal symptoms are not as common, but are also usually caused by the same hormonal shifts:

  • Forgetfulness, confusion, loss of focus, and difficulty concentrating: Decrease of estrogen and progesterone can provoke cortisol levels into becoming erratic, resulting in ‘brain fog’ and slower cognitive skill function.
  • Bloating: During perimenopause and early menopause, flagging hormones can create bloating. This often disappears when levels permanently stabilize.
  • Sleep problems: Dwindling hormones can trigger sleep disturbances such as interrupted rest, insomnia, waking up too early, or sleeping too long.
  • Burning tongue: This condition, simulates a fiery sensation in the mouth and tongue in about 40% of menopausal women. It can create a metallic taste, dryness, soreness, and tingling and is believed to be activated by a drop in estrogen.
  • Urinary and fecal incontinence or frequent urination: Significant changes to pelvic muscles damaged or weakened during childbirth, or waning estrogen can prompt more bathroom visits.
  • Thinning or loss of hair and brittle nails: Increase in androgens (male hormones) spur shrinkage in hair follicles. Bald patches, thinning, and undesirable ‘peach fuzz’ may develop, along with dry, brittle cracked nails.
  • Digestive problems: Constipation, indigestion, and gas can be attributed to cortisol levels affected by hormone reduction.
  • Headaches or migraines: If women experienced headaches before and during menstruation, this may continue throughout perimenopause and menopause. These often decrease or completely disappear after menopause.
  • Weight gain: Estrogen loss prompts fat redistribution to the abdomen, buttocks, thighs, and hips, resulting in that dreaded ‘middle age spread’.
  • Dizziness: Hormone fluctuations can disrupt efficient body and organ function, including the inner ear’s ability to provide balance, accounting for menopausal dizzy spells.
  • Increase in allergies: Ebbing hormones during menopause can accelerate histamine production, introducing new allergies or magnifying old ones.
  • Itchy skin, rash: Lubrication lost through lowered estrogen can spread throughout the body, contributing to dry skin, chafing from fabrics, and unpleasant reactions to soap and perfumes.
  • Breast sensitivity and pain (mastalgia): Hormonal spikes cause fluid buildup in the breasts, resulting in tenderness, swelling, and
  • Arthritis, joint, bone, and muscle aches: Estrogen minimizes inflammation. Loss of it intensifies aches, pains, stiffness, and
  • Irregular heartbeat and palpitations: Precipitated by hot flashes, these frightening sensations cause many women concern that they may be getting heart disease. Usually, this is not the case
  • Electric shocks: Often, these precursors to hot flashes radiate from areas on the head or extremities. It is theorized that these mild to severe jolts of pain can be ascribed to hormonal imbalances affecting the hypothalamus, or to neurons misfiring in the nervous system. Medical intervention is often necessary.
  • Change in body odour: Urinary or fecal odors arising from incontinence, pungent perspiration scents from hot flashes and night sweats, hormonal fluctuations affecting the thyroid’s impact on vaginal PH, producing a ‘fishy’ odor which can cause noticeable, unpleasant smells.
  • Tingling sensation throughout the body (paresthesia): Sensations like prickling, stinging, ‘pins and needles’, ‘crawling’ feelings, or numbness are experienced and are linked to the lubrication lost through estrogen drop.
  • Voice changes: As estrogen and progesterone diminish and testosterone rises, hoarseness, lowered pitch, and vocal fatigue after speaking too long are often overlooked menopausal symptoms.

Hormonal changes during menopause can contribute to several serious conditions in women, including:

  • Diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes can be life-threatening. Estrogen and progesterone dictate your cells’ insulin behavior. Disrupted hormonal balances weaken that message, leading to blood sugar level chaos, and then diabetes. Complications such as heart attack and stroke may follow.
  • High cholesterol: Waning estrogen boosts harmful LDL cholesterol and decreases good HDL cholesterol, inviting a fatty buildup in the arteries. This can lead to stroke and heart attack.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension): Plummeting hormones weaken the body’s resistance to several dangerous health risks, including those of salt and the rapid rise of a woman’s body mass index (BMI).
  • Irregular heartbeat (arterial fibrillation): Moderate symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, weakness, and shortness of breath. More severe cases can develop into blockages which can trigger stroke, heart disease, and even death.
  • Osteoporosis: Bones become thinner, fragile, and more brittle from lack of estrogen and can lead to fractures and breakage.
menopause ruin your life

Will the menopause ruin your life?

For some women the symptoms can be debilitating. It’s more challenging because it’s not a disease or illness as such but comes with so many symptoms that make you feel ill.

If you’re having hot flashes – it’s highly likely you’re worried it may happen in an important or when you’re out with family.

If you’re not sleeping well – it’s highly likely you’re going to feel tired, be more snappy and not performing at your best – then relationships/health/performance are all affected.

Constant headaches or feeling emotional – it’s highly likely you feel on the edge and more anxious – again adding a strain on health etc.

The combination of anxiety, sleep issues and hot flashes is going to be pushing you even harder.

Some people have a few symptoms, some people have lots and it can vary day to day. So knowing how to manage your emotions, self-care, slowing down, time management and having lots of support all will aid to making this time easier.

With all that said however, the menopause can actually be a great opportunity for women to look at their life differently.

Chances are you’ve not put herself first – you’ve been saying yes, when you should be saying no – you think you can do it all but you can’t. Looking after your own needs is not selfish – you’ve been rushing around and now it’s time to put yourself first and this is your chance to do so.

Coaching yourself through the menopause

A lady at the peak of her menopause was having panic attacks- feeling like she’s going crazy, having hot flashes and struggling to cope with her mood changes. Then on top of this she’s got a demanding job, three children, husband, house to manage and so on. All she wants to do is sleep and rest but she can’t.

Sound familiar? First of all it’s time to look at her self-care – very basic but it’s amazing how many women still don’t look after themselves. Water – healthy foods – exercise – sleep – rest – time for herself – general medical checkups. Make sure syou goes to your doctor to be checked out, as you may need HRT, vitamins, etc.

Then look at how you’re managing your day – you’re probably not, the day is running you. Find ways to slow down – do you need to delegate some work? Do you need a cleaner? Do you need to ask for help? You do not need to be a martyr. Do you need to say NO? Are you putting her energy into the right things?

All these questions and many more will help you to prioritise and streamline your day.

This basically means you’ll feel more in control and lighter, which is what you need with all your symptoms. This will ripple out to other areas of her life.

Will the menopause ruin your life? Then time to get your life sorted

The menopause stage is the perfect time to get other things in your life sorted, as your tolerance levels are too low to deal with BS. This time we look at habits/people/thoughts that are draining. Declutter inside and out. Maybe it’s time to let go of some relationships and thoughts that no longer serve you. Maybe you need to let go of doing everything for everyone. Maybe you need to start saying no and start saying yes to yourself. Maybe you don’t want to be the rescuer, giver anymore. Maybe you don’t want to follow the rules anymore and live your life your way. This time is like a new chapter beginning where you don’t have to conform anymore and you can be your authentic self. Menopause is the perfect catalyst to say no more, I’ve had enough and begin to live again.

Are you worried about the impact of the menopause on your life? Comment below with your thoughts or experiences and follow us on Instagram here where we’ll be keeping the conversation around the menopause going.

photo created by jcomp, wayhomestudio, benzoix, love photo created by freepik

Do you have the ‘smear fear?’ Fret no more. Let’s talk about it.

I get it. The last thing you want to be doing, especially during a plague, is taking your knickers off for a total stranger to have a consented rummage. Bring on the smear fear.

On a freezing cold November’s day in 2020, I found myself in this exact situation. 

How could 3 years have gone so fast?

It’s absolutely okay to dread it, even more so during a plague. 

What to wear?

I never know what to wear to these things. 

I opted for a pair of stretchy leggings, slip on boots and my hefty parka which I decided I would keep on, no matter what, on account of the plague.

Prevention is key

I mentally prepare myself the smear fear sets in. 

Having lost my mother to cancer, I will do whatever it takes, especially at my age, to look after my body as much as I possibly can. Once the swab is done it will be out of my hands, or vagina anyway!

It’s called cervical screening in the UK which is much less cringy to say and sounds less like an unfortunate after dinner spillage on your top.  

The nurse is such a chatty Cathy which is comforting and annoying in equal measure due to today’s requirement of face muzzles. Partaking in awkward banter prior to her delving hand first into my lady bits is not easy.

I took my place on the gurney, instantly regretting wearing the hefty parka that was now bundled up around my middle. 

Obsessed with not wanting any part of me or my things to touch anything else in an attempt to protect myself from the Rona, I was hot, uncomfortable and she hadn’t even swabbed my foof yet.

For me, the worse part are those words…..’just put your knees together then flop your legs to the side….’ So undignified but I know it will soon be over.

What I hadn’t prepared myself for was what she said next. 

What she hadn’t prepared herself for was my reaction of sheer panic and terror which was marred by my face muzzle. 

She wanted a second opinion on something she’d seen. 

She said it looked like a blood blister but she hadn’t seen one before. 

In a panic, I tried to do random calculations in my head of how many fannys she’d serviced. 

Perhaps mine was one in a million? She wanted to refer me to the gynaecologist. 

Keep Calm and Carry on

I do not cope well in these situations. Really, I wasn’t prepared. 

So, I turned to Dr Google who gave me about 3 weeks to live. All I could do now was wait. 
I needed to know more. I scheduled an appointment with my Dr who agreed he would take a look. A medical student was present and I was grateful. More so because she was able to use my (anti bac’d) phone to take a picture of my cervix and this thing…. Which was still there and was greeted by the doctor (who, btw happens to be a Dad on the school run) with an… ‘Oh yes, that’s a new one on me.’ 

We agreed I should keep my referral but he would fast track if I displayed any other symptoms in the meantime. 

As expected, there was a huge backlog at the hospital. I made a fantastic contact in the department who assured me she’d taken my notes to a consultant and it didn’t seem to ring any major alarm bells. 

Knowledge is key

Meanwhile, and unashamed, I had whatsapped the image to all my friends who might offer some helpful suggestions on what it might be. 

They couldn’t offer a diagnosis but were all very complementarity of my cervical selfie. 

The HPV test had since returned negative which was surely a good sign?

12 weeks after the initial discovery, here I was. Negative thoughts and smear fear plagued me as I walked into my appointment. I wouldn’t even sit down. I just stood there shuffling from foot to foot. 

Well, I was there for all of 4 minutes. He looked less like the hunky gynaecologists you see in the brochures and more like a geography teacher. I didn’t really care at this point. I just wanted someone to know what they were looking at to have a peek and give me the news. 

There was no news, it was fine. It was almost a disappointment. But not really. 

Relieved, I returned home where I will hopefully have an uneventful 3 year wait for the next rummage!

Time to face your smear fear

Since my ordeal, I reached out to friends and was surprised by how many had experienced abnormal smears, often resulting in treatment. It was comforting in one way but I felt sad I hadn’t known as so often we keep private about our privates.

Cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.

Screening can be really hard for some people – those who experience pain or have had previous trauma. There are some great support services available. Here’s one I used because I just needed some reassurance.

https://www.jostrust.org.uk/get-support or to find out more about what happens at cervical screening: https://www.jostrust.org.uk/information/cervical-screening/what-happens-during-cervical-screening

You can also find out more about it here. Get screening ladies and beat the smear fear!

Photo by Anthony Shkraba from Pexels