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20th February 2020

Making peace with early menopause

Migraines. Depression. Hot flushes. At 41, Tally Hatzakis didn’t know what was going on. She certainly didn’t suspect it could be the menopause.

“Looking back, I think it all started with migraines,” Tally tells This Is MedTech. “I had migraines on and off, but during that period they were almost part of the daily routine. I didn’t associate it with hormonal changes though my periods were in disarray partly because I was going through a very stressful period at work and I had whooping cough at the same time, so I attributed the headaches and the disturbance of my period to these instead.”

Menopause – the time in a woman’s life when her ovaries stop producing eggs, her periods stop and her hormone levels change, marking an end to her reproductive years – usually happens at around age 51. However, according to UK charity the Daisy Network, about 1% of women under the age of 40 experience spontaneous (natural) “premature menopause”, also known as premature ovarian insufficiency (POI), while about 5% have an “early menopause” before the age of 45.

There are a number of symptoms around the time of the menopause which can include irregular periods or periods stopping, hot flushes and night sweats, heart palpitations, migraines, depression, anxiety/panic attacks, insomnia, joint/muscle pain, decreased libido, mood changes and irritability, skin/hair changes, fatigue/low energy, low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, vaginal dryness, urinary infections and weight gain. Because these symptoms can be attributed to life events, stress or other factors, POI and early menopause can go undiagnosed for a long time. The cause is often unknown, but it can sometimes be hereditary.

Although Tally’s mother had gone through an early menopause, it took a year before she realised that she was experiencing the same thing. “For quite a bit of time I was depressed, but it was manageable until I started getting hot flushes. That was super terrible. With that also came insomnia,” she recalls. “By that time, I’d had no period for two years, so I knew what was going on, but the insomnia and the hot flushes drove me to the doctor.”

For women like Tally who are experiencing the above symptoms at a younger-than-average age for the menopause, further investigation is recommended. This involves the use of medical technologies like in vitro diagnostics (IVDs)* to test certain reproductive hormone levels in a blood sample and pelvic ultrasound scans to rule out other causes and count the number of follicles in the ovaries, which is low in POI.

Tally’s doctor sent her for blood tests, which confirmed the menopause. Hormone replacement therapy was one treatment option, but she decided to try alternative therapies like acupuncture instead. “It helped with the hot flashes, though insomnia and I have made peace with each other since then,” she quips. She also began reading up on the menopause and educating herself on the importance of good nutrition and exercise. It’s been a bumpy journey, but at 49, Tally is now in a good place. “I am OK in every aspect these days and the migraines are long gone.”

*IVDs are tests done on samples such as blood or tissue that have been taken from the human body. They can provide critical information at every step of a patient’s journey, from prognosis, screening and diagnosis to monitoring the progression of a medical condition and predicting treatment responses.