Jemima Grant completely blindsided when she started experiencing the symptoms of perimenopause, even though she was a GP with years of experience.
"Women have been almost gaslighted by the medical community," she said, noting that this has started to change as more women take on senior medical roles and speak up about their own experiences.
"They come with a problem and are told 'it's nothing, it's in your head, have an anti-anxiety tablet' - which is actually what happened to me, and I'm a doctor."
To equip other women with the knowledge about perimenopause and some of the different ways it can be managed and treated, Dr Grant is hosting an event on November 17.
"There is a huge lack of support for women, not a lot of education for GPs and also a lot of women really suffering, but because they don't really know what it is and they feel like their body is completely out of control," she said.
"I wanted to educate lots of people at once, and also bring together a supportive community."
Sharing her own experience so others might be able to relate, Dr Grant explains how she had three children while working full-time as a GP over 12 years.
When she began experiencing symptoms of what she now knows was perimenopause in her 40s, she ended up quitting her job because she didn't get the right help to treat the condition.
"With my third baby I started to get sweats while I was breastfeeding, which I thought was because I was really stressed," she said.
"I had some postnatal depression, and over the next few years I had a lot of emotional symptoms and weight changes that were, when I look back on it, worse the two weeks before my period."
"I was sitting there sweating, dripping on my patients, getting super-stressed and having panic attacks on the way to work, not sleeping well."
"I went to my doctor, who put me on an anti-anxiety tablet - which I tried and got side-effects - and I ended up just quitting my job."
Around this time, Dr Grant discovered a book called Hormone Cure by Dr Sara Gottfried, which outlined the role of hormones in fixing broader health issues, and recognised herself in the symptoms.
Then, as she worked casually as a locum GP and started an aesthetic medicine business where she would see patients with skin conditions like acne and rosacea, she realised how many women were unknowingly affected by perimenopause.
"It's sad because this is a time in a woman's life where she should be going for it and being a leader because you've got all that experience, your kids are a bit older and yet you're feeling less and less confidence in yourself because you're not feeling in control of your body," she said.
She now incorporates clinical medicine focusing on perimenopause into her Thirroul skin clinic, encouraging people to try yoga, herbs, exercise or hormone treatments to treat their symptoms.
At her conference, she will being together a group of professional women including naturopaths, fitness trainers, pelvic floor physio, diabetes educators to give Illawarra women an insight into how these different areas of health work together.
While perimenopause is slowly becoming much better understood and widely talked about, Dr Grant said too many women were not being diagnosed and treated - which she says could lead to greater health risks down the track.
"As a doctor, my biggest message is, if you're getting a lot of symptoms of perimenopause, it can herald that you're at risk of cardiovascular disease in your future life," she said.
"Perimenopause is kind of like the canary in the coal mine for women - if you're getting a lot of sweating, hot flushes it's a warning sign that we need to treat it and not just ignore it."
"Women have been told there's nothing we can do about it, it's just something you have to go through, or that it's too dangerous to treat - but that's actually not true."
She said women should be on the lookout for symptoms of perimenopause from their mid-to-late 30s, with a new onset of anxiety or insomnia usually the earliest signs she sees as a clinician.
"This can be from low progesterone - which happens way before your estrogen starts to drop - and is a very calming hormone," she said.
"So in the two weeks before our period you might feel anxious, have insomnia, not sleep well, to panic, have rage and low mood. And you can actually correct that with a bioidentical progesterone, or you can start with herbs."
She said women may also see a change in their weight as their estrogen starts to drop, because of the link between estrogen and insulin.
"When you're low in estrogen, you tend to put weight on your abdomen, which is the area that has high metabolic risk and is very hard to lose, and increases your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure," she said.
"I want women to know that there is a way of living your life where you have to become a bit more accountable, and this will help these symptoms.
"Women need to know that this is a time that they have to look after themselves, and that there is so much you can do now to prevent and help with symptoms, and also prevent chronic disease down the track."
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