Estrogen saved my life.
I’m not talking about the estrogen my body used to produce. That disappeared the day I had my hysterectomy. If you haven’t heard that part of my story, check it out here.
I’m talking about my hormone replacement therapy or HRT. It took months, but when I finally found the right combination of estradiol and testosterone it literally saved my life. I could not have kept living the way I felt without my hormones.
So when I hear about doctors who warn patients away from HRT without giving them all the information, it makes me mad. And when I learn first-hand that doctors are giving out wrong information based on studies that have been shown to be inaccurate, it makes me furious!
Here’s what happened to me.
I consider my primary care doctor as the quarterback of my health team. She’s the key to keeping my entire body healthy. But because of my hysterectomy and all the problems hormone imbalance caused me, I also have a hormone specialist who takes care of that part of my life.
But no matter how great they are, my doctors can only work with the information that I give them. Here’s where things almost got messed up in a big way.
A few months back, I realized I was having symptoms that had me worried. Periodically it felt like my heart was being squeezed and released. It took my breath away when it happened. Thinking back on it, I also realize that I’d been having occasional chest pain and shortness of breath. But it didn’t happen often enough for me to really put it all together.
When I finally thought to talk to my doctor about my symptoms, she started with a typically opening line – was I under stress? Picture me shaking my head in disgust. Of course I was under stress! I’ve been traveling so much I was losing weight and when I was home, I was always playing catch-up between my family and work.
And really, what woman doesn’t have stress! Don’t get me started on the whole subject of work/life balance for women. There is no such thing in my book. We have too much on our plates to ever think it’s going to balance out.
My doctor went on to run all the right tests, and told me my heart was so good I should never expect to have heart problems. That was great news! But I still had symptoms that weren’t going away.
My next stop was the cardiologist – a local woman recommended by my doctor. Here’s where I was absolutely shocked.
The cardiologist told me I had to go off my HRT. She said my estradiol was hurting my heart. I was shocked and horrified. And to make it worse, she quoted a nursing study that I won’t name because I know it isn’t accurate.
She was giving me bad advice based on bad data. Hearing it was almost enough to give me a heart attack right then and there!
Of course, I told her what I do – that I am the founder of EmpowHER and a health advocate and that I have read every study on HRT that I can get my hands on. I offered to connect her with my board of directors here at EmpowHER and to send her the accurate studies.
And I refused to go off my estrogen.
That’s the first thing I hope you remember from this. Doctors aren’t perfect. They don’t always have the right information. And not all research is accurate. So if a doctor tells you something and it just doesn’t sound right, get a second opinion!
That’s what I did. I called my hormone doctor to tell her the story and she agreed. What the cardiologist wanted to do was wrong for me. In fact, it was completely backward to what I needed. I learned something else new about my HRT that day.
Estrogen is a sex hormone. But it affects systems throughout your body. One of the symptoms of having too little estrogen can be a feeling like your heart is being squeezed, or a butterfly flutter in your chest.
Bingo! That was exactly what I was feeling.
My hormone doctor ran another blood panel and realized that my estrogen patch dose was too low, probably because of all the weight I’d lost. I was burning through my estrogen because my body didn’t have enough fat to hold on to it.
When she increased my estrogen dose, all my heart symptoms disappeared.
I know I’m not alone in this experience. Dr. Philip Sarrel is a member of my Medical Advisory Board here at EmpowHER as well as the founder of the Yale Menopause Program. He told me about an important study at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City that showed one out of three women who have hot flashes also experience chest pain.
Other studies done at Yale and the National Heart and Lung Institute in London showed that women with severe chest pain and normal arteries who didn’t respond to cardiac medicines did respond to estrogen. So clearly there can be a connection between heart problems and estrogen levels.
I’m telling you this story because it still makes me angry when I think about a cardiologist with a great reputation who didn’t know that too little estrogen could cause my symptoms.
I absolutely believe every woman has the right to complete, accurate information about her health. And part of that story is the important role hormones play, not only in our sexual lives, but in all areas of our health.
Here’s my advice to you. If you have symptoms you can’t explain, get them checked out and ask to have your hormones checked. Make sure you do the research yourself so you can understand what your numbers should be.
You owe it to yourself and your family to educate yourself so you can be your own best advocate. That’s the only way you can make the right decision. And whatever you do, don’t be afraid to stand up for what you know in your heart is right for you.Read more in Advancing Health After Hysterectomy