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HRT HELL

From infertility and divorce to ill health – three women reveal how the HRT crisis is ruining their lives

TOP doctors have called on the Government to investigate shortages of hormone treatment for women going through the menopause.

For more than a year, many women have struggled to access HRT, which is used to alleviate symptoms such as hot flushes and anxiety.

 Mandy (left), Rachel (middle) and Louise (right) have all had their lives turned upside down by the shortage of HRT
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Mandy (left), Rachel (middle) and Louise (right) have all had their lives turned upside down by the shortage of HRTCredit: Lancton 2020. All rights reserved. No reproduction without permission.

For some, it has meant taking time off work because they feel so poorly.

While others have struggled with their mental health as a knock-on effect of the physical changes.

Here, three women tell Lynsey Hope how problems with HRT have affected their lives, while a campaigner on the issue offers her view.

‘No one should suffer like this’

MANDY HARROW, a baker from Scarborough, North Yorks, who also runs a property on Airbnb, has battled severe migraines since struggling to get hold of her regular HRT prescription.

She says: I was in my early fifties when I started going through the menopause.

 HRT is used by women to alleviate symptoms such as hot flushes and anxiety
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HRT is used by women to alleviate symptoms such as hot flushes and anxietyCredit: Getty Images - Getty

I spoke to my GP, who recommended HRT to manage my symptoms.

But it took me a long time to find a prescription that suited me.

I’d suffered with migraines since my teenage years but some brands seemed to make them much worse.

I tried several brands before finding Indivina, a tablet form that really suited me.

The migraines stopped and I was able to start enjoying life again.

I’d been taking it for eight or nine years but six months ago, when I took my prescription to the pharmacist, I couldn’t get it.

I can’t cook, do the shopping or go out with my friends and family

I panicked, remembering the problems I’d had trying to find a prescription that worked.

The pharmacist recommended another type containing the same ingredients.

I went back to my doctor for a new prescription.

It worked for a while but eventually that was no longer available either.

I’ve since tried a few different types but I can’t find anything that doesn’t leave me suffering excruciating headaches.

I’m taking one now but suffer at least two migraines a week.

At their worst, I’m completely bed-bound.

I can’t cook, do the shopping or go out with my friends and family.

If I take my prescription migraine tablets soon enough, I can sometimes head it off before it gets too bad.

But if I don’t, all I can do is lie down in bed.

I can’t do anything. I can’t work. People see me as very flaky.

They don’t understand how severe migraines can be.

Women like me in their fifties should be living life to the full

No one can tell me whether my old brand will ever come back in stock again.

Neither the doctor nor the chemist seem to know what is going on.

And nobody can tell me why there is a shortage.

No one should have to suffer like this.

Women like me in their fifties should be living life to the full.

I’m sure if men had these problems, HRT would not be in short supply.

‘I felt anxious and irritable’

RACHEL FERSTER, from Haslemere, Surrey, works in ­property and blogs as Girl In Limbo. The mum of three teens says a shortage of HRT led to rows with her husband James, 46.

They recently separated and Rachel says: When I first started going through the menopause, like many women one of my biggest problems was feeling anxious and irritable.

 Rachel Ferster (middle) says when she is taking HRT she is a completely different person to be around
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Rachel Ferster (middle) says when she is taking HRT she is a completely different person to be aroundCredit: Lancton 2020. All rights reserved. No reproduction without permission.

That got better 18 months ago after I started taking HRT.

I was calmer, more patient and when I went out, I felt like a young woman again.

I was the life and soul of the party.

Now I’m ­struggling to get hold of my prescription.

James and I bickered for months – about him working late or going to the gym while I had to stay home and look after the kids. I didn’t feel valued.

I was incredibly low but he told me I was depressed and needy.

He said I was no fun any more and he didn’t want to stay married to me.

That hurt, especially as I felt a few HRT patches might have made all the difference.

Taking HRT I’m like a different person – more focused at work, with energy to exercise and I’m out all the time, having fun.

I went to Athens in October and ­bought some over the counter there.

Without the therapy I lack energy, barely go out and pile on weight

My GP and pharmacist here still can’t get them.

I’m trying to make the few I have left last, but as I’m taking a lower dose the symptoms are coming back.

Without the therapy I lack energy, barely go out and pile on weight.

I’ve tried a gel, which was not very nice to use, but I would have persevered had it worked.

But it caused my skin to break out in rashes so I couldn’t go on with that.

My anxiety levels are sky high and the brain fog is terrible.

I battle hot flushes in my office – I’ve even had to leave meetings.

No one seems to have any answers for why it’s happening

No one can tell me when my patches will be available again.

Sometimes I go to the chemist and they say they might have some next week, but it’s pot luck.

No one seems to have any answers for why it’s happening.

I just hope that the situation comes to an end soon so that women like me can get back to enjoying life.

‘Patches are key to helping me function’

LOUISE HEGARTY, a marketing executive and mum of one, from Nottingham, fears she won’t be able to conceive a baby without her HRT prescription.

Married to civil servant Paul, 35, she says: "In 2008, tests revealed I had tumours on my right ovary  so it was removed.

Terrified that Paul and I wouldn’t be able to have children, I froze some embryos and we started IVF.

 Louise says that HRT patches are key to helping her function
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Louise says that HRT patches are key to helping her functionCredit: Getty Images - Getty

I fell pregnant in 2012 and our daughter Ava is now eight.

I’ve since had my left ovary removed after cysts were found that could turn cancerous.

This threw my body into early menopause and I was given HRT patches.

Coping with the menopause at any time is hard, but I was 35.

Just three months after starting the medication, it became harder to get hold of it.

I’d spend hours ringing pharmacies trying to find somewhere that had the patches in stock.

Often I can’t get them anywhere.

I can be bedridden with hot flushes.

I suffer mood swings.

The patches are key to helping me function.

I’ve had hot flushes as I sit at my desk.

If I don’t keep my hormones level with HRT I doubt I’ll be able to ­conceive

It’s overwhelming and when I should be hitting deadlines for reports, I find myself racing to the kitchen for ice and cold cloths.

I battle nausea.

I have to bow out of meetings and I can’t concentrate.

I’ve had to take time off work to drive around pharmacies trying to get hold of prescriptions.

But if I didn’t, I’d be off sick for weeks.

Paul and I would love a little brother or sister for Ava and still have two frozen embryos in storage, but if I don’t keep my hormones level with HRT I doubt I’ll be able to ­conceive through IVF.

The thought of not being able to work is hard enough, but the thought of this shortage impacting my chance to have another child is devastating.

The Government needs to take action and ensure all women have adequate supplies of patches to keep us both healthy and productive.

By Diane Danzebrink

WE’VE been seeing shortages of HRT since October 2018 and since then it has got worse.

There has been very little information from the Department of Health about why it’s happening.

I’ve had cases where women are trying to eke out their HRT supplies, changing their patch less regularly than they should, for example.

We’ve heard all sorts of reasons for why it might be happening.

It was suggested the adhesive for some patches was not available, or certain ­ingredients for tablets were not available.

We do know that the Department of Health changed the drugs tariff category for 15 types of HRT in 2018 – several months before the issues started.

The Government has said that has nothing to do with it.

What does seem odd is that these products are still ­available in countries such as France and Spain.

The biggest problem for many is the impact on their mental health.

Anxiety is a common menopause symptom.

Others struggle with cognitive function, which can affect them and their work.

It’s a frustrating issue for women but it’s ­taking up doctors’ time, too.

The sooner it is addressed, the better for everyone.

You can find out more at menopausesupport.co.uk.

  • Diane Danzebrink is a psychotherapist and ­menopause expert, who founded Menopause Support and the #MakeMenopauseMatter ­campaign.
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