‘Am I having a heart attack?’

When reader Sophie Favell ended up in A&E, the good news was, no; the bad news was, it was perimenopause. Here’s what she learnt 

 

“You’ll think I’m mad but I have this weird squeezing in my heart. Am I having a heart attack?” 

The middle-aged male doctor at London’s Guys and St Thomas’ hospital looked at me and sighed. “You’re not having a heart attack. You’re just stressed.” 

Well, frankly, I was. About six months before, I had been promoted to a stressful job on a national newspaper and I was working long, late hours. I had two children, the eldest entering her teenage years, and both had a timetable of out-of-school activities that involved lots of rushing about. Plus, my father had recently died, so I was still processing my grief. I wasn’t getting to bed until 11.30pm, but then I was waking at 3.37 sharp, feeling hot, with a rush of adrenaline that stopped me getting back to sleep. My mind would start chattering, my heart would race and that would be that.  

So, yes, I was stressed, tired and extremely anxious. I was living with non-stop adrenaline running round my system, I was overthinking everything, and in the two weeks before I ended up at the hospital, I’d been experiencing a weird squeezing sensation with every throb of my pulse. That’s why I thought I was having a heart attack. 

To his credit, the doctor hooked me up to a machine to prove to me that my heart was fine. Then he sent me on my way, telling me I needed to try and find time to relax. What he didn’t do was ask me how old I was – if he had, he might have put two and two together and given me different advice. 

Two days later, I was telling some girlfriends what had happened. “That sounds like classic menopause heart palpitations,” one of them said. 

I was stunned. I had no idea that stress and anxiety could be heightened by menopause – or, more correctly, perimenopause. In fact, I knew very little about perimenopause. I had heard the word bandied about in my magazine work, but at 47, I was too young, wasn’t I? Off I went and did some research. A day later, I was on the phone to my doctor. 

I decided very quickly that I needed HRT; if I’m honest, I didn’t have time for the symptoms. With my life as it is, I couldn’t cope with not functioning properly. I needed to sleep, I needed to stop worrying. And full disclosure: I’m not really one for mindfulness and herbal remedies, though I know they work for lots of people. I wanted the medical solution: I wanted my oestrogen back.  

Plus, I was sold on the fact that HRT helps protect against osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, heart disease, bowel cancer, depression… I mean, why wouldn’t you take it?  

The GP sent me for a blood test, which showed that my FSH was high (levels of follicle-stimulating hormone rise in perimenopause), and my oestrogen was low. But she didn’t need to wait for the results to know what was happening. My symptoms told her I was perimenopausal.  

I had already had a Mirena coil fitted as a result of a uterine polyp a few years before. (It releases a small dose of progesterone to stop the lining of your womb building up; this had stopped my periods, so I couldn’t track what they were doing.) My gynaecologist had told me I could use that as part of HRT if I needed to. And a friend had told me about Oestrogel, a bioidentical hormone replacement that’s absorbed through the skin. That’s what I asked for, and when the doctor handed me the prescription, I cried. It suddenly hit me how terrible I had been feeling. 

Within a week of starting the Oestrogel, I was sleeping better, the hot flushes at night had abated and my stress levels had calmed. I began to feel like myself again – and that I could cope. It was so simple but it has been life-changing. It will need adjusting from time to time and I still have symptoms, but everything feels so much more manageable now. 

I’ve done more research on MegsMenopause.com and the Dr Louise Newson site and I can now identify plenty of the symptoms I’ve had – all of them perimenopausal: dry, gritty eyes; hair loss; vaginal dryness and itching; extreme tiredness; loss of collagen; itchy skin; poor concentration; aching limbs; low libido; loss of bone in my jaw; and rage – at myself, at the kids, at my husband, at life. 

I count myself lucky. Although my symptoms were bad, they didn’t get out of control. I’m angry, though, that I had no real knowledge of perimenopause and the symptoms – I was in no way prepared. It’s vital that women are given the information to help them understand what’s happening to them, at a time in their lives when they put their own health and wellbeing at the bottom of their never-ending to-do list. 

So, what’s next? To get some testosterone to sort out that lost libido.