When my periods finally stopped it was a real turning point in my life
Susan, 54 years old
I was very determined to cope with menopause naturally. But then I started having hot flashes. They were so bad that I used to break out in a sweat every half hour. I found it really stressful.
I entered menopause when I was 43. I had returned to work not long before because my husband had fallen ill, so I was the main breadwinner. I noticed that my periods were no longer as regular as they had been. At the time I thought the change was stress-related or due to my new life circumstances. Before that I could pretty much count on my cycle being regular, give or take three days. It was always very reliable.
My sister’s menopause started very early, too. I think it might run in families. I remember my mother used to complain about sweats. She was between 50 and 55 years old at the time.
With my periods being so irregular at first, it became clear to me how women could get pregnant at that age.
No more periods – hard to get used to
I'd just turned 49 when my periods finally stopped. It was a real turning point in my life. I found it quite distressing. I also had thoughts like: ‘Am I still a woman? What makes you a woman?’ But they soon went away. After that I was really happy.
After all, it is also a relief. You no longer have to keep your periods in mind when planning things, you no longer have to accept and put up with them. In my opinion menstruation is something you learn to put up with. It's not only a good thing. But women get used to having periods. When I stopped having mine, I missed them for a long time too.
I went to talks to learn more about how to go through menopause without hormones. I was very determined to cope with menopause naturally. But then I started having hot flashes. They were so bad that I used to break out in a sweat every half hour. I'd take some clothes off to cool down, but then I'd soon feel chilly and have to put them back on again. I found it really stressful.
When I have hot flashes, my body and skin suddenly feel different. Then I know that a hot flash is on its way. I never used to wake up at night. Nowadays, if I wake up at night, I know that I’m going to have a hot flash.
Hot flashes at work meetings were unpleasant
I thought to myself: “You won’t be able to stand this for long.” I was really worried that I'd get ill because of it. I had to work. Whenever I had a hot flash when talking to people at work, I felt dirty and awkward. It became clear to me that I wasn't going to get through menopause naturally after all. I went to see a gynecologist. She didn’t see anything wrong with hormone therapy. That was before the big U.S. study was published, though. She asked me why I had any concerns. I told her I had mixed feelings about it. But she couldn’t see any disadvantages. She had a very positive attitude towards hormone therapy. I didn’t feel the same about it. Although I took the pill when I was younger, I still don’t feel happy about taking hormones.
I started using a hormone patch, at first with a 25µg dose, which was later increased to 50µg. After a few years, when the hot flashes had become milder, I went back to a 25µg dose. The hot flashes never went away completely. But they weren't as bad. They were much less frequent. I felt I could cope with them then. After all, it wasn’t the first time in my life that I'd broken out in sweats. I had gone through similar experiences before menopause, for example when I was nervous.
Tried different things to relieve symptoms
I always told myself that I would stop hormone therapy when I turned 60. I started using only one patch per week instead of two. After a while I stopped using them completely. But the hot flashes got worse again. I've been taking Remifemin for a few months now and things have improved, but I still have hot flashes.
I find the hot flashes annoying. They make me angry. I know that other women just accept them, but I find that difficult to do.
I started meditation at the beginning of menopause. After that I didn't do any relaxation for a while. Later I tried autogenic training, but it didn't go that well. Then I started yoga, and I do that regularly now.
I drank mistletoe tea for some time, but it didn’t have any obvious or positive effects. Some younger colleagues of mine told me that they took soy extracts.
I didn't have a big problem with vaginal dryness. It took a bit longer, but it wasn't so bad that I needed to use lubricants.
Finding myself again – just like puberty
I think menopause is a real crisis, and you have to find yourself again. You can really compare it to puberty. You have to find your place again. A lot of things are questioned. Not by others. You start questioning them yourself. Many things can no longer be taken for granted. I don’t know if this was due to a “midlife crisis,” menopause or the situation at home. I’m not sure how much of an influence they each had.
I can't say whether I was consciously aware of menopause or saw it as a time of opportunity. When I was around 50 I became calmer and more easy-going. I worked through insecurities and some issues. I hadn't been aware that menopause could also be an opportunity.
I can’t give other women much advice, because there are many things on the market I haven’t tried. But I know that what works for one woman will not necessarily work for others. I'd advise women to be better informed than I was, so that they can find out what will be best for them. I wouldn’t necessarily tell people not to take hormones if the symptoms are strong and can't be managed with natural remedies. When I used the hormone patch it had an immediate positive effect, which was a big relief. I think every woman has to find out for herself whether it is suitable for her. Perhaps be better informed and deal with it more consciously than I did too.
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Please note: The names of our interview partners have been changed to protect their identity. The photos are of models.