Davina McCall: Menopausal Girls Face a “Pandemic of Injustice”

Davina McCall began to get night sweats when she was 44. She had to go to the bathroom two or three times a night and felt so sleepless during the day that she couldn’t read the autocue at work.

She had no idea what was happening to her.

“One day I got such a bad hot flash in a makeup chair that I asked if the chair was heated,” she says. “They looked at me like I was really weird. I thought, ‘I’m 44, I’m too young, I can’t go through menopause, this happens to women in their fifties.’ ‘

For a year she “struggled” with fatigue, memory fog, bad mood and fear. Once she even wondered if she had dementia early on. Eventually her periods became very light and very, very long, and the penny fell: she had entered perimenopause.

Davina McCall found 44 “too young” for menopause.

Perimenopause is the name given to the transition that women experience before menopause. Technically, a woman has only entered “menopause” when she has had a year without periods. The “perimenopause” boils down to when the level of estrogen in the body begins to drop. You are experiencing symptoms, but often still having periods – even when your monthly cycle has gone wrong.

The presenter, now 53, knew very little about perimenopause at the time and soon discovered that friends were just as uninformed. To help other women, she shares her experiences and myths in a new documentary: Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and Menopause.

Perimenopause was a “tough experience” before seeking help, she says during a pre-show press conference, and the worst part was night sweats. “What was really terrible for me when I got night sweats was that I’m addicted to recovery,” she says. “So I got sick again and tried to recover from the addiction.”

“It made me sick again and tried to recover from the addiction.”

McCall has not had alcohol in 30 years and is even reluctant to take over-the-counter pain relievers after overcoming heroin addiction in his early 20s. As a result, she was reluctant to use menopausal medication. But she eventually sought medical assistance when her symptoms threatened to end her career.

“I couldn’t work anymore and I was the breadwinner. I had to make money and put food on the table, so I had to find a way to work,” she says. She visited a private gynecologist who was prescribing hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Within a week, she began to feel more like herself.

There are 13 million women in the UK who are either peri- or postmenopausal, but McCall’s story is actually quite unusual. Only one in ten of these women is taking HRT, although HRT is the recommended treatment for managing symptoms. Most perimenopausal women do not take HRT, sometimes out of choice, but also out of fear or lack of support from their GP.

“I get very, very angry when we can’t make decisions about our bodies,” says Davina McCall.

In the documentation we meet Dr. Nighat Arif, a family doctor specializing in women’s health, and Dr. Louise Newson, who runs the world’s largest private menopause clinic. Both say there is a marked lack of up-to-date menopausal training for general practitioners, leading to reluctance to prescribe HRT. Doctors also often misdiagnose menopause or prescribe antidepressants that don’t help depression when they are related to low levels of estrogen. Dr. Newson sees at least two women every week who commit suicide without access to the correct medication.

A study from the 1990s created misunderstandings about the safety of HRT in the medical community and the general public. The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) was a US study of nearly 162,000 women that started in 1991. She identified a link between HRT, breast cancer and heart disease that made headlines around the world. One million British women stopped taking HRT overnight.

But Dr. Nick Paney, gynecologist and menopause specialist, says “the design of the study was far from ideal”. Women had an average age of 63 years and were 79 years old when they were hired. “We don’t routinely prescribe hormone therapy for women in this age group,” says Dr. Paney on the show.

A re-analysis of the data showed that only women in the The age group of 70 to 79 year olds with heart attack and breast cancer and even then the increased risk was not classified as “statistically significant”.

Recent research shows that the risk of breast cancer associated with HRT is far lower than most people think – it’s there, but drinking alcohol and being overweight are both much higher risks. Studies also show that HRT actually lowers the risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, dementia, and colon cancer.

It is “a pandemic of injustice” that women are not given access to this information, says McCall, who would like more NHS-funded menopausal clinics across the country and better support for women in the workplace.

“These are our bodies and I get very, very angry when we can’t make decisions about our bodies,” she says. “If you choose not to do this, that’s perfectly fine. However, if you choose not to do HRT, at least make an informed decision.”

In addition to demystifying HRT, the documentary aims to dispel misconceptions about post menopausal sex – yes, you can still have an orgasm at 90 – and remove the stigma that surrounds some of the more taboo symptoms.

“These are our bodies and I get very, very angry when we can’t make decisions about our bodies.”

McCall meets a woman who has vaginal atrophy – a thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vaginal wall that can occur when your body has less estrogen. She describes how she sits on a block of ice for hours to cool off the fiery pain. The moderator recalls her own experience with the condition. “I had severe dryness – so bad it felt sore when I tried to wipe myself off after going to the bathroom, so I had to dab,” she says. “I didn’t know what that was and I had no idea it was part of perimenopause.”

This stuff isn’t easy to talk about, says McCall, and she’s actually been advised to stick with schtum if it is considered “Aging and a bit unsavory ”. But she believes we have a responsibility to talk about perimenopause and menopause. Because if we don’t, who will?

“As women and as parents of young girls, sisters or grandmothers, we owe it to our children and our children’s children and all of our friends to learn about HRT and menopause because it will affect us all,” she said.

“I’m back to normal now and actually feel better than I have for years. I work hard, I’m at the top of my game, I feel like I’m born again. “

Davina McCall: Sex, Myths, and Menopause are on Channel 4, Wednesday May 12th at 9 p.m.

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