EMW05 (Sonia)

Name: Sonia
Age at interview: 49
Diagnosis: Spontaneous early menopause
Age at diagnosis: 40

Background: Sonia works part-time in the hospitality sector. She lives in a metropolitan city.

About Sonia: Sonia began to miss periods and experience night sweats when she was in her mid-30s. After several years of seeing different doctors about her symptoms, she was diagnosed with early menopause and Hashimoto’s Disease (a thyroid condition) at age 40. Sonia did not take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). She found lifestyle changes including changing jobs, eating a healthier diet, and exercise helpful. Not being able to have children was very distressing, but she feels ‘reconciled’ with this now.

More about Sonia: When Sonia was in her mid-30s, she began skipping periods, despite her previously ‘extremely regular’ menstrual cycle. She initially attributed the changes to ‘stress and overwork’ and didn’t think ‘terribly much of it.’ However, when the gaps between periods increased and she began experiencing night sweats, Sonia became worried, fearing that these symptoms signalled the return of glandular fever and chronic fatigue syndrome, both of which she had experienced in her late 20s.

Over the next few years, Sonia saw several GPs specialised in women’s health, an endocrinologist, and a fertility specialist, and had blood tests for glandular fever, auto-immune conditions, and cancer. She said no doctor mentioned perimenopause or early menopause, nor was it ‘on [her] radar.’ As a result, being diagnosed with both Hashimoto’s Disease and ‘early ovarian failure’ at age 40 was ‘shocking.’

Sonia was exhausted trying to cope with her ‘very physical’ job while experiencing ‘terrible flushing, day and night,’ and adjusting to rapid weight gain. However, wanting to postpone taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for as long as possible, she researched early menopause and Hashimoto’s Disease and experimented with complementary medicine and lifestyle changes in an effort to alleviate her symptoms[1].

Sonia found Chinese herbs, reducing processed foods, changing to a less stressful job, and yoga, qi gong, walking, and meditation helpful in easing her symptoms. She also has regular bone density scans and blood tests to monitor her thyroid, hormone, cholesterol, vitamin D and iron levels. Although Sonia described feeling ‘more tired’ post-menopause and said that taking Chinese herbs had been expensive, she is now ‘symptom free,’ and pleased that she decided to ‘invest in [her] health.’

Emotionally, learning she would not be able to have children was ‘very hard’ for Sonia and she ‘disengaged a bit’ from friends with children for a couple of years while trying to deal with her grief as well as the menopausal and thyroid disorder symptoms. However, while Sonia still feels some sadness, the ‘excruciating pain’ of the loss of her fertility has since passed.

Reflecting on her experience, Sonia said that while early menopause had prompted an ‘enormous shift in identity,’ and she had some concerns about her long-term health, it was no longer ‘at the forefront’ of her life. She urged health professionals to understand that being diagnosed with spontaneous early menopause was a ‘life change’ and recommended offering women a follow-up appointment and written information to take home. Sonia advised women with early menopause to remember that they are ‘not alone,’ to seek support, and to be ‘proactive’ about their health.

[1] Use of HRT until the natural age of menopause (51 years) is recommended for women with spontaneous POI for menopausal symptoms as well as bone and heart health, unless there is a medical reason not to take oestrogen, e.g. women with personal experience of breast cancer, or who experience side-effects they cannot tolerate.