Lifestyle

We found that by the time we were 25, we couldn’t have any more children

ON CORONATION Street tonight, 20-year-old Faye Windass will discover a devastating truth – that she suffers from either premature ovarian failure or premature menopause.

Significantly, this had never surfaced among the possible causes cited by viewers to explain her recent false pregnancy, underscoring how little is known about the condition.

Faye Windass, played by Ellie Leach, tells Craig Tinker (Colson Smith) that she has an early menopause and will never be able to have children again

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Faye Windass, played by Ellie Leach, tells Craig Tinker (Colson Smith) that she has an early menopause and will never be able to have children againPhoto credit: ITV

Menopause usually begins when women are in their mid, late 40s, and early 50s.

Premature ovarian failure (POF) or Premature ovarian failure (POI), as it’s more commonly known, is used to describe menopause in your teens, 20’s, 30’s, and early 40’s when hormone levels change, the ovaries stop producing eggs and your periods miss.

Essentially, it’s the end of a woman’s reproductive years, so it can understandably feel disastrous for teenagers and young women diagnosed with the condition.

It affects about 1 in 100 women under 40, 1 in 1,000 women under 30, and 1 in 10,000 under 20, according to the Daisy Network (daisynetwork.org), a charity that provides POI support and advice.

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In the majority of women (90%), there is no underlying cause.

In other cases, autoimmune diseases, genetics, infections, surgery, or cancer treatments can be identified as contributing factors.

But whatever the reason, the signs and symptoms are often, but not always, the same as those of “normal” menopause, such as irregular (or no) periods, infertility, hot flashes and night sweats, palpitations, low sexual libido, and Fatigue.

It’s not the sexiest topic, to be honest, which is why menopause was pretty much taboo until recently.

The Sun’s Fabulous Menopause Matters campaign – supported by celebs like Davina McCall and Lisa Snowdon – has championed women going through menopause, fought for their rights in the workplace and campaigned for HRT cost reductions.

As for early menopause, it’s difficult to remember a time when it was openly discussed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a story about early menopause.

“I didn’t realize you could go through menopause so young, so I hope it raises awareness and reminds people that they’re not alone,” says actress Ellie Leach, 21, who plays Faye.

Although Ellie first heard about the plot months ago, Faye and her partner Craig Tinker (Colson Smith) are just now coming to terms with the on-screen news.

“Faye is shocked and upset. She realizes that if she has more (her own genetic) children, she won’t have the life she hoped for,” Ellie explains, referring to the child Faye gave birth to as a teenager.

“What’s great about the storyline is that we include different people’s perspectives because it’s not just about Faye, it’s also about the people around her.

“I hope it helps family members and partners and people going through early menopause and that people feel like they can talk openly about it.”

Kim Bennet was diagnosed with POI at the age of 16

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Kim Bennet was diagnosed with POI at the age of 16Photo credit: Kim Bennet

Kim Bennet, 32, from Falkirk, Scotland, who was diagnosed with POI at the age of 16, is keen to spread the word.

“I got my first period when I was 15 and the periods were regular for seven or eight months and then stopped abruptly.

“I was panicking at the time. That was before Google was used regularly, and even though I was a virgin, I figured I could go through the next immaculate conception.

“I waited nine months to tell my parents and then we called the doctor,” recalls Kim, who was referred to a specialist for more blood tests and an ultrasound.

“A few weeks later I was called to the specialist practice.

“I remember my mother’s doctor saying, ‘Your daughter has premature menopause. We call this ‘premature ovarian failure’.

“So I was told I was infertile,” says Kim, who had never heard of the condition before, and neither had her parents.

“I remember thinking this will make life easier as there will be no surprise pregnancies.

“It was easier to think about than the fact that I wasn’t able to have children and the long-term effects on your body and health, including your mental health.”

Kim was advised to continue on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) until her average age through menopause “to keep my body healthy”.

“The one I liked best is called Kliofem.

“I take this along with a small dose of antidepressants, which help with mood swings, but there’s no one size fits all, so it’s worth trying a few until you find what works for you,” Kim suggests, admitting that she does relieved to be in a relationship with someone who has a child from a previous relationship and doesn’t want more children.

“I hope everyone who receives this diagnosis knows that there are many other ways to become a parent and that your impact on the world is not determined by your fertility.

“Don’t let the diagnosis rule your life and if you’re ever struggling, get help or talk about it.

“Probably someone else has been where you are now and can support you.”

Jodie Caveney was diagnosed with POI five months ago and is unable to have a second baby

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Jodie Caveney was diagnosed with POI five months ago and is unable to have a second babyPhoto credit: Jodie Caveney

Unlike Kim’s diagnosis 16 years ago, Jodie Caveney, 26, a mother of one from Manchester, was only diagnosed with POI five months ago.

“I was 25 when I decided to have another baby, but after I stopped birth control my period never came back.

“Soon after that, I started having hot flashes, fatigue, night sweats, lack of sex drive and aching joints, so I went to the doctor who organized blood tests,” she says.

The results showed that Jodie had high levels of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and she was referred to a gynecologist who diagnosed her with POI.

“I’ve told my close family and friends about it, none of whom had heard of POI before, but honestly I found it humbling to tell people.

“I feel like an old woman.

“I’m incredibly lucky to have had a child, but I’m also grieving over a child that I’ll never have,” says Jodie, who has tried HRT before, “but it doesn’t seem to be working for me.”

“It’s great that Coronation Street is raising awareness of this disorder.

“It will show people who are suffering that they are not alone and will help ease the embarrassment.”

THE OPTIONS

dr Paula Briggs, reproductive health adviser at the Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust, has been supporting the soap opera’s screenwriters for over a year.

She wants people to know what happens when they start showing menopausal symptoms before it’s expected.

“People under the age of 40 are recommended to have two blood tests about six weeks apart to measure FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) levels.

“In people with POI, these levels would be high (over 30 IU/L) because the hormone is trying to get the ovaries to produce an egg, but there aren’t any or they’re not of good quality, so the levels go in an attempt to achieve this.

“That’s combined with low estrogen levels.”

In terms of treatment, patients can use a combined hormonal contraceptive option (pill, patch or ring) if appropriate, or HRT, which is used to relieve symptoms and prevent debilitating conditions such as osteoporosis and heart disease.

“Quite often women can feel good about themselves, so they don’t want treatment and you can’t force them to do it, but it’s about them understanding that if they don’t they could end up with osteoporosis as there isn’t enough Estrogen levels affect bone health.

“In addition, women need to be aware of the fertility services available to them and how pregnancy can be achieved through the use of a donor egg.

“You might get women who don’t want children, but taking that option away is extremely difficult,” says Paula.

“I hope this story raises awareness of a condition that is seldom talked about because if you miss your period and you are not using hormonal birth control, this is not normal and should be investigated to avoid long-term damage.”

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For more information and support, see daisynetwork.org.

Coronation Street airs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on ITV

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