Davina McCall tells menopause summit how she went from feeling lost to enjoying her ‘second Spring’

Gráinne Seoige and Davina McCall pictured at the National Menopause Summit. Pic: Marc O'Sullivan

Eilish O Regan

Former Big Brother presenter Davina McCall spoke today of how she went from feeling “lost” as she struggled with menopause symptoms to now enjoying her “second Spring”.

The 55-year-old TV star got her first symptom when she was just 43 and opened up about how who she felt flat and “forgot who I was.”

She shared her experience with broadcaster Gráinne Seoige – who is also going through the menopause - at the first National Menopause Summit in Dublin, where medical and other experts aimed to lift some of the confusion around the old taboo and highlight the hill still to be climbed in providing more support in the workplace.

Ms McCall ended up with night sweats, aching bones, lack of energy and insomnia.

Both women have made TV programmes about the once-taboo subject and revealed how they were concerned at first that it would affect their careers.

When the symptoms started, McCall did not even want to confide in friends because she thought it “age her”, she told the packed gathering in the Mansion House.

“I looked older than I was. My hair was grey and flat.”

The turnaround came when she started taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT). She admits she was worried at first about reports from the 1990s linking it to a higher risk of breast cancer but was reassured after doing more research.

She said she would never give medical advice but that she had benefited hugely from topping up with the hormone testosterone at levels monitored by her doctor.

“It was transformative for me,” she said. “I am now 55 and having the time of my life. I used to be scared of ageing and getting older. I love my work and have never worked so much in my life.”

She split up with her husband a number of years ago and has found love again with a London hairdresser, Michael Douglas.

Ms Seoige said had had only one hot flush but no other symptoms such as waking up at 3am every night as if the alarm had gone off.

Earlier, she told the summit how she convinced Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to run an information campaign about menopause.

"But I want more. I want an information leaflet sent through every door in the country. I want them in doctors’ waiting rooms.

She told Mr Donnelly it was ridiculous that we had information campaigns on smoking and other issues but none of the menopause despite it affecting half the population.

"I want it everywhere so that everyone has the information and no other generation has to scramble around trying to put two and two together like most of us have," said Ms Seoige, who last year fronted a documentary on the menopause.

She was master of ceremonies at the summit today and praised how much science is discovering more about the menopause.

"The science is moving. Science is on our side," she told the gathering.

Other experts who addressed the conference called for more employers to introduce work policies and supports for women going through the menopause.

Katie Ridge, head of employer relations at Adare HRM, said that about 600,000 women were affected by the menopause in Ireland and 350,000 of these were in the workplace.

Symptoms can last up to 11 years and while there is very good legislation around pregnancy for employees, there is none for women going through menopause.

A survey found 60pc of women found menopause had a negative impact on their work and 8pc needed to leave because it was so debilitating.

She said the "specific needs of women with the menopause" were not well captured in workplace health and safety laws introduced in 2005.

"No country in Europe has legislated for menopause leave."

It is time for use to apply a rights based framework to put it on the legislative agenda, she added.

Dr Sumi Dunne, a GP, described how women could look for the Green Score on the internet to measure their symptoms.

If they have a score of 12 or more, they are likely to be in the perimenopause or menopause stage but it could also be the case if they had a score lower than 12.

She herself is going through the menopause and is making lists about lists.

She described how some patients describe how the symptoms have left them "shrinking in to the background in the presence of others."

The majority can have a mixture of symptoms including hot flushes and night sweats but one of the major difficulties can be disturbed sleep .

She applies the Green Score to patients and also does a lifestyle assessment.

When it comes to treating women, she opts for an individual approach and prescribes HRT if appropriate.

Loretta Dignam, founder of the Menopause Hub, urged the Government here to appoint a Menopause Employment Champion and follow the lead of the UK.

She said that when Helen Tomlinson was named as England’s first ever Menopause Employment Champion this month, she was determined to smash the taboo surrounding menopause.

"About time too. And it’s time policymakers in this country challenged the taboo that still exists around menopause in Ireland and made a similar appointment here.”