Menopause symptoms vary from person to person – here, three women share their own experiences

Menopause isn’t one size fits all.

Menopausal skincare problems
(Image credit: Future)

With around 13 million women in the UK currently going through the perimenopause or menopause and menopausal symptoms affecting more than 75% of women – the menopause brings with it a whole host of unpredictable symptoms; from fatigue and heart palpitations to anxiety and brain fog.

Put simply, the menopause is not just hot flushes. 

In fact, according to a report produced by the Fawcett Society, based on survey data commissioned by Channel 4 of over 4,000 women – the findings of which were featured in Davina McCall’s Sex, Mind and the Menopause documentary – 77% of women experience one or more symptoms they describe as ‘very difficult’, while 44% of women described three or more symptoms as ‘severe’. 69% say they experience difficulties with anxiety or depression due to menopause, 84% experience trouble sleeping and 73% experience brain fog.

Aside from these, further symptoms of menopause include; headaches, panic attacks, exhaustion, muscle pain, loss of libido, night sweats… the list goes on and on. Menopause symptoms are severely impacting most menopausal women – only a lucky few remain symptom-free – and we refuse to stay silent.

Here, three women share their varied menopausal experiences and hard-earned wisdom...

“My main symptom was horrendous joint pain”

“My menopause journey was a long and lonely one,” says Claire, 55. “I was in my early forties when it all began and, from the word go, I never had a hot flush or any of the ‘typical’ menopause symptoms so I never have thought it menopause related. My main issue, and symptom, has always been horrendous joint pain.”

“I remember waking up in the middle of the night with searing pain in two of my fingers. This quickly transferred into my elbows then knees and hips. Leaving me unable to walk, sit or stand, and in a dreadful state. My then GP was not particularly knowledgeable about menopause and never mentioned it. I was sent to endless consultants over a number of years and endured endless blood tests, CT scans and MRI’s. I was tested for Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, and Lymes Disease, to name a few… but everything came back normal.”

“In desperation, my then GP suggested I try HRT, I took it in tablet form but it made little difference. Knowing what I know today, I should have been on an alternative dose, or offered a gel or patches or maybe stronger HRT (Our GPs desperately need more training).”

“My physiotherapist (all the consultants I saw referred me back to physio) seemed to be the most help, and when I approached him at a particularly low point and asked him if I was terminally ill, he was mortified and said no, it was systemic. Each week I had different joint issues.”

“I changed GPs and she was empathetic and listened to my long story. She had me try different medications and strong anti-inflammatory tablets. I also took good quality supplements for sleep issues and anxiety. Exercise played a huge part, even though at times I could barely walk, I still went most days to the gym.” 

“Today, I’m in a much better place. I am now on transdermal HRT (gel and tablet progesterone) and my joints are 80% better. If only I had known then what I know now I wouldn’t have lost nine years of my life to menopause symptoms.”

“The menopause affected my mental health”

“I literally had every symptom going bar hot flushes,” says Kim, 60. “I had all the mental impact of the menopause which had a huge physical impact on my life because I was so lethargic and had no interest in anything.”

“My anxiety even affected my job, as I kept having panic attacks. I went from having all the confidence in the world to no longer being able to walk into a room full of strangers, so I had to quit my job as a makeup artist and start a business from home as I felt I couldn't even leave the house. Obviously, this financially hit me and my family too.”

“I tried my GP but they just wanted to prescribe anti-depressants, but that wouldn’t address the cause of the problem. I decided to do research into doctors who understand the menopause and could offer specialist treatment and that’s how I heard about the Online Menopause Centre.”

“I was diagnosed as being deficient in several hormones – DHEA, estrogen, testosterone and progesterone – and started biologically identical hormone replacement therapy, which is better tolerated than older forms of synthetic HRT. My anxiety gradually disappeared after six months of taking HRT, but my other symptoms stopped almost immediately. I felt like a completely different person mentally – I could relax more and deal with stressful situations much better. I also got my confidence back.”

“For me, the brain fog was the worst”

“My menopause ‘journey’ officially started at the end of 2020,” says Lucy, 52. “I had had hot flushes for a while and by summer 2021 I was on HRT and feeling a lot better. However, what I had not taken into consideration were the other symptoms that I can now attribute to the menopause. For me, the brain fog and joint pain.”

“I used to get out of bed and feel about 20 years older each morning – prior to this I would be pretty supple and happily getting ready each day. Now, it took me several minutes to stand up and shake out and stretch the worst affected joints (usually hip/knee/feet) to get them up and running (so to speak!)”

“I am someone who doesn’t love exercise but realises how good it is for me both physically and mentally. So I was going to the gym 5–6 times a week; a mix of static weight machines and treadmill (interval training). Initially, I thought the aches were side effects but as they did not get any better, and once the HRT had taken effect, I realised what the cause was.”

“For me, the brain fog has been not just frustrating but also very worrying. I began to question what was wrong with me, dementia? Old age? Until I did research and again the HRT kicked in. I still have my moments but it became so debilitating for run-of-the-mill tasks both in and out of work. Not only that, it scared and upset me. I was forgetting simple things, and berating myself for not remembering what I was supposed to be doing. My Google calendar became a sea of reminders.”

“Having been on HRT for over two years, I can honestly say it has been life-changing – I was also given the chance to ‘upgrade’ my treatment this summer with a more ‘tailored’ option – I am lucky enough that my local authority offered me a consultation with a specialist menopause GP – sadly the Lenzetto option she prescribed to me is not in stock enough to risk changing over, so I remain on the basic oestrogen tablets.”

Alice Barraclough
Alice is a contributing lifestyle journalist with over seven years of industry experience and has worked for the likes of The Telegraph, The Independent, Women's Health, Stylist, Glamour, Grazia, Glorious Sport and more. Specialising in health and fitness, Alice covers everything from the latest product launches to interviewing some of the most inspiring female sports stars of our time.