Perimenopausal symptoms can be confusing. Along with the usual hot flashes and night sweats, you may also experience some lesser known symptoms such as extreme fatigue, anxiety, and racing heartbeat, along with a myriad of other symptoms.
Lisa Haley, wife of Cherokee Women’s Dr. James Haley, understands this all too well since she entered menopause at an early age. As she entered perimenopause, she began to experience lesser known symptoms. Even married to an OB-GYN — and familiar with the classic signs — Lisa didn’t recognize her unusual physical and emotional fluctuations as being perimenopause-related.
Lisa Talks About Her Experience
We talked to Lisa about her experience with perimenopause and menopausal symptoms. She didn’t understand what was happening at the time and hopes by sharing her experience that women may better understand the signs of perimenopause.
Q: Hold old were you when you began to experience perimenopausal symptoms and what were those symptoms?
Lisa: I was only 40 when I began to feel different. If I’d had hot flashes, night sweats — any of those universally known symptoms — I would have recognized it as perimenopause right away.
I was always a high-energy, laid back, and easy-going person. I never had any problems keeping up with my kids, aged 11 and 7 at the time. I could throw myself into their extracurricular activities, volunteer for different events, look after my home, attend family functions, play tennis, exercise, and still have enough stamina left over for more. I did it all cheerfully and enjoyed every second.
The Symptoms Overtook Me
Suddenly, though, I found myself moody, snappish and easily upset. I started having frequent heart palpitations, which terrified me. Was I having an anxiety attack — or worse — a heart attack? I was young and in peak physical health and couldn’t understand what was happening to me. At times, I felt like I was losing my mind, but I forced myself to act normally, especially since the anxiety and palpitations would eventually go away.
I began to lose focus and interest in all the things that I loved doing before. I didn’t feel well. It was even difficult for me to get out of bed.
Then, an overwhelming sense of exhaustion overtook me. At times, I could barely stay awake. I had no control over it. No matter how hard I tried, I would doze off, almost without warning.
One day, I was driving when that unusual fatigue came over me. I could feel my eyes closing against my will. I pulled into the first parking lot I saw and turned off the motor. ‘I’ll just rest my eyes for minute and I’ll be okay,’ I convinced myself.
I woke up two hours later to the sound of my phone ringing. It hit me then just how perilous a situation I’d put myself in. Here I was, alone and sound asleep for hours in a strange, empty parking lot. Anything could have happened to me!
That night, I finally told my husband Jim what was happening to me. He immediately recognized my symptoms as being perimenopausal. He arranged to have me tested to rule out any other conditions. One of those tests checked for levels of estrogen and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). In perimenopause and menopause, estrogen levels fall and FSH levels rise, determining whether the body is either entering or has entered these life cycles.
Though Jim was certain that I was in perimenopause despite my early age, we were both stunned to discover that my estrogen, progesterone, and FSH levels indicated that I was at the very cusp of full menopause.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
I was immediately placed on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Women who no longer have ovaries, a uterus — or neither — are usually given estrogen only. Since my uterus and ovaries were still intact, I was given both estrogen and progesterone, the latter to prevent endometrial cancer. I began taking it regularly and within three days, I felt like myself again!
Q: There’s so much negativity and controversy regarding HRT. Weren’t you afraid?
Lisa: Not a bit! It gave me back my quality of life. I was monitored carefully. None of the risks I had prevented me from taking estrogen and progesterone, like a history of breast or ovarian cancer, blood clots, stroke, liver disease, or vaginal bleeding. I don’t smoke either, so I was a good candidate.
Dr. Haley tells you what you need to know in this informative video about bioidentical hormone replacement therapy.
Q: How long were you on HRT and isn’t it dangerous to use for extended periods?
Lisa: I’m still on it, and I’m still doing fine. I took synthetic hormone replacement in pill form for eight years. Three years ago, I switched to bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, which is a natural, plant-based formula made up of hormones that molecularly are nearly identical to the body’s own hormones. This type of therapy can be adapted to each woman’s individual needs. Though synthetic HRT is perfectly safe in the right dosage, and as long as you have no risk factors, bioidenticals are more natural, and therefore considered more compatible to a woman’s needs. In my case, the cream — which I apply to my arm daily — is made up of progesterone, estrogen and a bit of testosterone. Testosterone is necessary to maintain good muscle and bone health and it also helps regulate mood.
HRT For Life
I’ll most likely be on HRT for life. These hormones are necessary and must be replenished regularly. My mother is 76 and will also be taking HRT for life. She has never had any problems or side effects either.
Without HRT, the body would eventually deplete its own resources and the symptoms I experienced would come back — possibly worse than ever — and possibly accompanied by even more dangerous ones. To me, the choice is obvious.
Cherokee Women’s Health Can Help
If you have questions about perimenopause or are experiencing symptoms, please call 770.720.7733 to make an appointment with one of our providers.