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Dawn French suffering chronic symptoms due to menopause – ‘it was a thief of my memory’

GP talks about the impact of the menopause on weight gain

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Best known for her roles in The Vicar of Dibley and French and Saunders, alongside life-long friend Jennifer Saunders, Dawn is most recently the star of the Marks and Spencer Christmas advert. Transformed into fairy-form the star provides voiceover for the festive advert alongside M&S trademark Percy Pig. But far from living a fairytale, Dawn revealed that since going through menopause, her memory has never been the same, meaning she has to constantly write notes for herself. And that was not the only challenge, as the star suffered from physical symptoms too.

Following a cancer scare back in 2017, the star took the brave decision to have a hysterectomy. Describing the situation of her “lady plumbing” as “hell,” the star decided that the best thing for her was to “part company” with her womb.

However, shortly after the procedure, in her early 50s the star had to endure painful and chronic symptoms of menopause.

Talking to Prima magazine about both her physical and mental symptoms, she said: “You have to surrender to it. I found it was a thief of my memory, so I had to write lists to remember stuff – I still do!

“Physically I found it a challenge – my womb was a mess, so it had to go.

“But the main thing is you can’t pretend it’s not happening; accept it and, if you need help go and get it.”

Explaining more, the star said that it has not only been her who has suffered due to menopause, but lots of her closest friends as well.

Remaining positive about overcoming symptoms, Dawn continued to say: “Lots of my friends are on HRT patches or pills, and there’s so much out there to assist you.”

“But, encouraging women to remain positive, she said: “I promise that afterwards, there’s life and it’s all fine.

“I think you can decide how you are with any experience and how you look at things. There’s a poem by American poet Jane Hirshfield that goes: I moved my chair into sun. I sat in the sun. The way hunger is moved when called fasting.

“I live my life by that now and make the decision to have a different mindset about things if I need to.

“You can apply that to the menopause or other tricky times of life; you think of the positives and move your chair into the sun.”

Dawn’s mantra for life is clearly working as she has been able to find ways to deal with menopause, recover from the key-hole surgery and lose seven and a half stone in weight through dieting and exercise.

However, adapting to the menopause can be extremely tricky for many women. The National Institute of Ageing states that for many women, menopause can cause hot flushes, sleeping trouble, pain during sex, mood changes, irritability, depression or a combination of these things.

The NHS elaborates on this saying that symptoms can begin months or even years before periods stop, and can last for around four years after your last period – although some women experience them for much longer.

For some women, like Dawn, brain fog is a common symptom of menopause. A lot of women worry that these are early signs of dementia. But if these experiences coincide with changes in your hormone levels and maybe a few (or many) hot flushes, they are far more likely to be signs of menopause than the onset of dementia.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health says up to two-thirds of women in menopause or perimenopause report cognitive problems. However, it is unclear what causes these deficits, and whether they continue postmenopause.

One study showed a connection between a loss of verbal memory skills and the severity of hot flushes. The study reported that women who experienced the most hot flushes in a day, also had the worst scores for verbal memory performance. However, even if there are no other menopausal symptoms, memory can still be affected by the drop in hormone levels.

In addition, The Guardian reported that another study conducted by the University of Rochester in New York, looked at 117 middle-aged women and conducted a battery of neuropsychological tests for cognition.

These tests found that in the first year after their final period, verbal learning, verbal memory, fine motor speed, working memory and attention skills had all decreased.

More interestingly, it has also been shown that women who had a hysterectomy, and their ovaries surgically removed at a younger age were more prone to the effects on the brain. Women who had their uterus and ovaries removed and then took hormone replacement therapy had a slower rate of cognitive decline than women who did not take hormones.

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