“Back on HRT in my Sixties”

For the last few years, I have been taking HRT, once more – mainly, because I have struggled without it. This time, I’m taking the body identical version (made from plant extracts) which I asked for, years ago, on a visit to my GP. Back then, following a Google search by the GP, I was advised I could only get this form of HRT on a private prescription.

Before I give you my reasons for going back on HRT, following a two-year break, I will go back to 2012 as this is when I started taking it due to feeling unwell. Following a trip to the doctors, where I had various blood tests, I was diagnosed as not only going through menopause but also having an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). No wonder I was feeling pretty rubbish! At the time, I was prescribed HRT (“Elleste Duet”), along with Levothyroxine, which helped me feel not only sane but more human.

In the years that followed, I would have my regular six-month checks where I was always advised by the nurse or doctor to stop taking HRT, at the first opportunity. This was the message, back then.

Five years later, my doctor decided to change my prescription to another form of HRT – “Kliovance.” The other option was antidepressants!! I remember saying that I wasn’t suffering from depression, so it was decided I’d give this form of HRT a try.

Over the following months, I gained quite a few pounds in weight, which I didn’t feel comfortable with. I was nearly fifty-nine by this stage – so I decided to try and stop taking HRT. Not only for the weight gain, but I also didn’t feel well on this new HRT – I had headaches and I was waking up during the night and generally not feeling good. From the knowledge I’d built up, at this time, I thought I must be through/over the menopause, and if I managed to come off HRT, would my body become used to being without these hormones? I wanted to try it.

To begin with, I found it quite difficult to wean myself off HRT. The hot flushes or flashes (if you are reading this in the US), combined with anxiety, sleeplessness, and a whole bag of the usual symptoms, came rushing back. My process for coming off it was to take one pill and then miss a day until the monthly pack was empty. Then, with the next pack, I would take one pill and miss two days. Then, with the next pack take one and miss three days, and so on, until they were out of my system. This did take me over a year because, sometimes, the symptoms came back so strongly that I had to revert to taking the extra pill, once more.

By January 2020, I had been off HRT for around six months. But, I was beginning to struggle – mainly due to the original symptoms returning and a few more creeping in, which I hadn’t experienced the first time around. So, I found myself sleep-deprived, of low mood, anxious, uncharacteristically short-tempered (poor husband), brain fogged, forgetful, as well as having parched, dry skin – oh, and my hair coming out at an alarming rate.

However, the worst thing I was trying to cope with was vaginal dryness or “atrophy”, which was getting progressively worse. By this time, we had hit the pandemic and the world was in chaos – which made me uncomfortable bothering our overstretched NHS or my GP regarding this condition. Unfortunately for me, it was becoming chronic and progressing into an irritating painful condition which began to affect my quality of life.

In December 2020, during the second lockdown, I summoned up the courage to make an appointment with my GP (who was a locum) and, unfortunately, after examining me, didn’t seem to know what the problem was. She did say my condition was chronic and prescribed an oestrogen pessary to use every day (as opposed to the recommended twice a week dosage). She also prescribed Betnovate ointment (a steroid used for skin complaints) and said she would consult with a colleague to see if they had anything to suggest. As the condition worsened, I returned to the GP who then referred me to a dermatologist. Why it wasn’t a menopause clinic, I’m unsure of. 

On the day of the appointment, the female consultant asked me a lot of questions before examining me. I did ask if I should go back on HRT, and she said “no”. I was then prescribed lidocaine, which basically numbs the area.  I continued in pain and discomfort for another six to nine months as the situation slowly worsened. I then shared my story with a friend who told me she was having problems getting the correct HRT to suit her symptoms but had found “the best nurse” who specialised in menopause. Luckily, Michelle (my saviour) was based at my GP practice. 

I had to book in with my GP, initially, before being referred to Michelle for an HRT assessment. Coincidentally, I saw the young GP I had seen a year, previously. She agreed that my health situation had not improved and HRT may be the answer.

When I had my appointment with Michelle, it felt cathartic to tell her my sorry tale. She knew, immediately, how to help me. I was so grateful. I remember feeling emotional at the time, hoping things might finally improve. I must mention her disbelief at being prescribed lidocaine by the Consultant Dermatologist, which, as previously mentioned, would simply numb the area.

To set me on the road to recovery, Michelle prescribed these medications:

  • Estradiol patches 1,5 mg. This is a low dose which has been okay for me for the last few years. It’s derived from plant sources, including yams. The dosage is twice a week.

  • Progesterone – Utrogestan vaginal pessaries Body Identical HRT. This is derived from plant sources, including yams. One to be inserted every day.

  • Estradiol 10 mcg vaginal tablets to be inserted twice a week – for vaginal atrophy.

  • Estradiol 1mg cream pessary – twice a week – for vaginal atrophy.

Before taking the above medications, this vaginal condition made me miserable and, as I love to feel fit and well, this was stopping all of that. These prescriptions simply came to my rescue. Michelle was correct because, within two weeks, the condition was under control.

I hope this post helps others who have vaginal atrophy or any of the other symptoms I have mentioned. If you are not happy with the advice provided, ask for another opinion until you are satisfied.

Now I feel fantastic, there’s sometimes the odd twinge and, if so, I increase the dose of the Estradiol 10 mcg vaginal tablets/pessaries and it seems to sort it out.

My superheroes in this saga are Michelle, who knew her menopause “stuff”; my friend, Sharon, who pointed me in the right direction; and, people like Dr Louise Newsom (physician, menopause specialist and member of the UK Governments’ “Menopause Taskforce”) who has helped the whole menopause subject become mainstream and something not to be embarrassed about and hidden away. We now have conversations, thank goodness.

I’ll end with a caveat to say that I am not an expert, just someone who, through trial and error, has found what works for my body and the right medications to help me live a fulfilled life.

I would love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments.

Until the next time.

Alison x

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15 Comments

  1. Hi, Alison – I have been taking bio-identical plant hormone replacement for over a decade or more. I started on simply a low dose, like you. Then, I retired and got a new doctor who knew how to test my hormones. She prescribed amounts that were supposed to replace what my body needed. But I felt worse instead of better. A couple of years ago, I went back to my original doctor and back on the basic low dose. But then it didn’t help me like it used to. And this doctor has been getting old and not able to figure out what to do unless it was by his old habits. The vaginal dryness never resolved. I don’t even know what to do anymore. I’m going to meet a new doctor tomorrow who is a D.O. I’m hoping he will be able to correct my bio-identical HRT to meet my needs. P.S. My sister went to a naturopath who told her that since she never took HRT after going into menopause, she was beyond help at this point. After awhile, she decided not to believe that and is looking for a doctor who can help her. Thanks for sharing your experience! – Angie, http://www.yourtrueselfblog.com

    • I know a lot of women suffer with vaginal dryness/atrophy and thank goodness we are sharing our experiences instead of being embarrassed about it. It’s a common condition and a normal process of the menopause. However, if it becomes chronic like it did with me it can effect our quality of life in many ways. Now, there are treatments to help. My health improved within weeks – I do hope you and your sister get sorted. I couldn’t believe the improvements once I was on the right track, I remember being very grateful for the help received. It’s worth getting another opinion or find a specialist like Michelle my nurse. Let me know how things progress.

  2. /

    Sorry to hear you went through such a miserable time. I came off HRT in 2021, gradually, but I’ve regretted it ever since. I had hot flushes for probably two and a half years, although they’re less common now, and I have a few of your symptoms. Plus (and this sounds terrible) my wrinkles and dry skin have definitely become much worse. Your post has given me food for thought!

    • I really was having a miserable time. The improvements to the biggest problem I had was probably within two weeks which was magical for me. The other improvements which I forgot to mention is my skin which is definitely less dry and my hair loss stopped being so dramatic, though these improvements have been gradual over the last few years. Like so many other women I will be taking this concoction of HRT for the foreseeable as it’s improved my quality of life so much. x

  3. I have been on Estradiol for a few years; however, I haven’t been using it lately. I don’t feel any worse for it, but I’m quite a bit older than you. I do still have hot flashes but have always run warm. I would love it if my doctor would up my thyroid medicine because I’m just on the verge of being not right. He wants to err on the side of caution, though. Good luck with your new regimen. I’m glad you’re already having such good results.

    https://marshainthemiddle.com/

    • Thank you, Marsha. I hope you get the right Thyroid dosage sorted, as this can make us feel well below par if it’s wrong. I have been on the same dose from the beginning (100mg). I really need to have by bloods checked too as I can’t remember the last time. xx.

  4. /

    I never would have thought that menopause had such a impact. I am on hormones for a year now. I sleep like I never did in my entire life, i have no dryness, sadly my sec drive is gone. And I had a over active thyroid, but the hormones don’t effect that. I’m not using plant based hormones though. I need to learn more about that.

    • So true Marsha. Menopause can have a massive impact on our quality of life in lots of ways. At least we are not embarrassed to discuss this normal time in our lives anymore, and can help each other with our own personal journey, as we are all different. xx

  5. Your journey with HRT and managing symptoms like vaginal atrophy is incredibly inspiring and relatable. It’s heartening to hear how you navigated through various treatments until finding the right support from Michelle and the appropriate medications. Your courage in advocating for your health and sharing your experience will undoubtedly empower others facing similar challenges. It’s crucial to have open conversations about menopause and seek knowledgeable healthcare providers who understand its complexities. Thank you for shedding light on this important topic and offering hope to those seeking relief. 💖

    • Thank you, Natasha. I wanted to share my experiences so much, as I knew there would be someone with the same symptoms as myself. It is so important to find the right professional to help – I’ve never been so relieved when I was finally prescribed with the correct medication. I knew immediately that I was in safe hands. Unfortunately, it did take a while, so worth persevering. Unfortunately I know women who are still not receiving the correct HRT for their individual needs. The knowledge around menopause is slowly improving, thank goodness. There should be more specially trained nurses like Michelle within GP practices, that would be amazing! x

  6. Your journey through managing menopause symptoms and finding effective treatment is truly inspiring and relatable. It’s commendable how you persisted through various challenges and sought out the right expertise to finally achieve relief. Michelle sounds like an absolute savior, understanding your needs and prescribing a tailored approach that has brought back your vitality and well-being. Your openness about these experiences helps break the stigma surrounding menopause and encourages others to seek the best possible care for their health. Here’s to feeling fantastic and embracing the conversations that empower us all! 💪🌸

    • Thank you, Steve. It was indeed a journey and a half finding the correct medication. I was so lucky to have a specific HRT specialist nurse in my GP practice. Hopefully, this will happen in other GP surgeries as Michelle understood my symptoms and dealt with them immediately. Fortunately we are now talking about menopause and that is the important thing.

  7. So sorry you have had to deal with all this menopause craziness! I have gone through so many terrible menopause symptoms as well. My mood swings were the worst and finally after seeing two doctors, I went to a naturopath who has got me on a much better path. I am on a progesterone cream and supplements. Right now I am in the early stage of menopause and am estrogen dominant so supplements and progesterone cream are helping. Thanks for sharing your journey because I know mine will change and I will have to reassess.

    • So true! Menopause is a forever changing process. The trickiest part as you know is getting the correct treatment at each step. Your doctor seems thorough and is providing you with the correct medication. I think there’s a lot of women who suffer in silence, which is a shame, not getting help can effect our quality of life in so many ways. Thank you for sharing too!

  8. This ticks so many boxes Alison! So little knowledge out there still but I’m so glad to hear you’ve found your solution. I sadly gave in and started taking Venlafaxine but if I’m honest, I wish I’d been on it years (long story). I take HRT and also can’t imagine life without it! This is such an important post, it’s good to know you’re not on your own!! 😘 xx

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